China's missed opportunity in dealing with US on North Korea

There are some problems that “good chemistry” just can’t solve. At a surprisingly cheerful summit meeting at Mar-a-Lago in April, China’s president Xi Jinping seemed to find Donald Trump’s sweet spot. Xi said they “cemented their mutual trust”; Trump called Xi a “terrific person” and hailed their “good chemistry together,” predicting that “lots of potentially bad problems will go away.”

But one of those bad problems isn’t going anywhere, and as a result, Trump’s view of China is quickly turning sour. The reason for his dwindling patience is Beijing’s failure to rein in North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s nuclear program and escalating series of missile tests, the latest being an intercontinental ballistic missile that might someday carry a nuclear payload that could hit the continental United States. “Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “So much for China working with us - but we had to give it a try!”

China seems not to have appreciated how fortunate it was that Trump’s China policy has focused overwhelmingly on North Korea, rather than on its unfair trade and investment policies and its aggressive military expansion in the Asia-Pacific. For China’s interests, this has meant free rein on most other issues of concern—an extraordinary opportunity that it has squandered by not responding more effectively to what Trump wanted on this single front. Now, Trump is ratcheting up the pressure on China on multiple fronts at once.

Trump seems rightly to have determined that China isn’t doing enough on North Korea.

Monday’s missile test came months after the president tweeted that a North Korean ICBM “won’t happen” on his watch. North Korea is destabilizing Asia and is now posing a pressing security threat to the U.S. itself. China has more leverage and must do more. So the Trump administration has rolled out various new measures that Beijing has deplored: “secondary sanctions” on a Chinese bank, shipping company and two company officials for involvement in money laundering to aid North Korea; a $1.42 billion new arms sale to Taiwan; more assertive naval operations in the South China Sea; and the high-level release of a State Department report accusing China of being one of the worst-offending countries on human trafficking.
There is much more.

China has blown a significant opportunity and in the process made war on its doorstep more likely.  It will likely not be a surgical strike type war but involve nuclear weapons on both sides.  China's trade with the North Koreans can't be worth that, but its lack of leadership in stopping the Norks has made it more likely.


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