North Korea has once again shocked the world with an illegal missile test, a sign the Kim Jong-un regime feels safe and comfortable in its alliance with its largest trade partner, China.
The only way to deal with North Korea’s serial lying and deceit is to put pressure on China to reign in its unhinged client state. We must make it clear that we hold China directly responsible for the behavior of its closest ally. Beijing must either rein in its erstwhile ally – which is to say end its nuclear program and its provocative missile launches –or it must cut its ties with this rogue nuclear power that threatens the stability of the region.
President Trump should demand that China, as a responsible great power, sever its mutual defense treaty with North Korea.
The Trump administration is starting to ratchet up the pressure on Beijing, whose officials have frantically started denying that China has any leverage at all over North Korea. This is just another lie. If China were to close its border with North Korea, for example, it would ignite an economic crisis that would bring the country to its knees in a matter of weeks.
A responsible great power, which China is not, would have acted against North Korea long ago. When North Korea sought nuclear weapons back in the late Nineties in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it would have taken steps to halt the program, as the U.S. did with Taiwan back in the Eighties.
In the years following, a responsible Beijing would have done everything possible to discourage North Korea from violating international treaties and sanctions and carrying out nuclear or missile tests. Stop with the threatening rhetoric and behavior, it would have urged.
If North Korea persisted, China would have cut back — or cut off — trade. It would have threatened to abrogate its mutual defense treaty with Pyongyang. A responsible China would have wanted to make sure that it was not caught up in a war with the U.S. and South Korea of its one-time ally’s own making.
But China, as we all know, has done none of these things.
Not only has Beijing not discouraged Kim Jong-un’s missile madness, it is quietly and deliberately encouraging it.
Despite promising to put pressure on its dangerously unhinged ally, China has privately continued to aid it in various ways. With China’s help, Pyongyang has been able to work around UN sanctions, and actually improved its military procurement capability. Nine-tenths of North Korea’s foreign trade is now with China and, as President Trump noted recently, the volume of that trade is rapidly increasing.
While Beijing piously condemns Pyongyang’s weapons testing, a steady stream of trucks and trains rumble across the Dandong crossing into North Korea. These carry all manner of Chinese-made goods including, in all likelihood, missile components and other high-tech gear.
China even sells North Korea the trucks used to carry and launch its long-range missiles and may have given North Korea access to its GPS system, Beidou, to help improve the accuracy of its missiles. As Gordon Chang has noted, Kim Jong-un “can press a button and send three types of missiles to the lower 48 states.” Richard Fisher of the International Assessment and Strategy Center has suggested that the KN-14 might be able to reach the U.S. Capitol.
Aside from being North Korea’s trading lifeline and its military supplier, China is also in the business of buying time for its North Korean ally to further upgrade its weaponry. Each time North Korea conducts a nuclear test or fires off a missile, Beijing soberly counsels the U.S. that the only way to resolve the tension on the Korean Peninsula is to exercise strategic patience, enter into negotiations, and gradually build trust.
Past negotiations with North Korea have only served to buy North Korea the time — and over a billion dollars in American aid —that it needed to build more missiles, more nukes, and to start learning how to pair them together.
As long as Kim Jong-un is confident that he enjoys China’s quiet support, he has absolutely no reason to change his behavior. Instead, he will continue launching a missile every couple of months, coupled with threats to nuke San Francisco and Los Angeles. He hopes to drive us back to the negotiation table and, with the help of his Chinese brokers, extort another billion of so out of us.
There is no reason for a responsible world power to continue abetting this behavior. The Trump administration should make this argument clearly, and demand China make North Korea face consequences for its actions.
If China refuses, then there is only one thing left to do: We must tell China that we will treat an attack by North Korea on the U.S. or its allies as an attack by China.
Then we can start counting down the days until Kim Jong-un is history.
Steven W. Mosher is the President of the Population Research Institute and a former Commissioner of the Commission on Broadcasting to the People’s Republic of China.