UNITED NATIONS—President Trump’s tough stance on China was vindicated Saturday when the U.N. Security Council voted to slap significant sanctions on North Korea, with China voting in favor of the tough sanctions—a major win for Trump’s hard edged stance toward the geopolitical foe.
Although the resolution includes token nods to the resumption of the Six Party Talks and expresses hope that the sanctions do not target the North Korean people, China came away from the negotiating table mostly empty handed.
There is no pro-China way of spinning this: The Chinese, seen in some circles as an unstoppable behemoth, proved to be a paper tiger on the issue of the North Korea in the face of the tough stance shown by Trump and his administration.
Trump made getting tough on China one of his central campaign promises, mainly in terms of trade but also with China’s inaction on the rogue regime of North Korea. On North Korea, China has continually pushed back on any efforts to clamp down on the regime, even after the launch of two intercontinental ballistic missiles by North Korea in July, during which time China held the presidency of the Security Council.
Despite the obvious escalation by North Korea’s launching of a missile that could reach American cities, China appeared to dismiss the launches. At an emergency Security Council session at the beginning of July, Russia expressed doubt that the missile launched was, in fact, an ICBM, while both China and Russia rejected the idea of sanctions or military escalation.
China went with its standard line of calling on parties to “exercise restraint” and avoid “belligerent rhetoric.” It seemed like business as usual from the Chinese.
While both the U.S. and China told reporters they were negotiating a resolution, with China and Russia’s business interests dominating their respective agendas there seemed no reason for them to change their approach. But U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley—who, while not a Trump ally during the campaign, has been in lockstep with the president’s foreign policy goals at the U.N.—gave China a warning of what was to come. In the unusually tense session, she warned China that America was willing to go it alone.
“If you are happy with North Korea’s actions, veto it. If you want to be a friend of North Korea, veto it. But if you see this as a threat, if you see this for what it is—North Korea showing its muscle—then you need to stand strong and vote with the international community to strengthen sanctions on North Korea and if you choose not to, we will go our own path,” she growled.
Trump, who had given Beijing a chance when he met with President Xi Jinping in April and expressed optimism about U.S.-Sino relations, also expressed his anger at China’s stubbornness, saying “so much for China working with us”:
Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us – but we had to give it a try!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 5, 2017
He followed this up explicitly after the second test, blasting China for being “just talk” and warning “we will no longer allow this to continue”:
I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2017
…they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2017
Haley, instead of playing the good cop to Trump’s bad cop, shocked the U.N. by implying a day later that if China did not want to cooperate, the U.S. was done with China and the U.N.—announcing that the U.S. had no intention of requesting an emergency session of the Security Council as was widely expected.
“There is no point in having an emergency session if it produces nothing of consequence,” she said, before putting the ball firmly in China’s court, saying, “China must decide whether it is finally willing to take this vital step. The time for talk is over.”
The one-two diplomatic punch from a hardline Trump administration apparently staggered China, who were used to the Obama administration’s gentle approach to diplomacy.
A jittery-looking Ambassador Liu Jieyi held a press conference Monday and did not mention North Korea in his remarks, except to list it at the bottom of a broad list of things the Security Council had to deal with. Only when pressed on the issue by the press did he respond.
“We have been urging DPRK and indeed other relevant countries not to exacerbate the situation in the Korean peninsula by avoiding language and action that heightens tension on the Korean peninsula because that runs counter to the objectives sought to be achieved through Security Council resolutions,” he said. He later noted that he was deliberately not mentioning specific countries, although it was not clear why.
When Liu did finally mention the U.S., he chose not to attack the U.S. directly, but instead only reduced China’s role in the conflict.
“There are two principal parties … the DPRK and the United States,” he said. “While people talk about China a lot, if the two principal parties refuse to move towards what is required by Security Council resolutions, the de-escalation of tension, negotiation to achieve denuclearization and peace and stability, and also to resume dialogue then no matter how capable China is, China’s efforts will not yield practical results.”
But despite saying China was firmly against an “economic blockade” and arguing that only dialogue and negotiation could save the day, within days China crumbled under Trump’s pressure.
On Saturday, in a unanimous vote, the Council passed a resolution hitting North Korea with fresh sanctions. China and Russia, both countries that could have vetoed the resolution, voted for it.
And the resolution was no hodge-podge compromise either, like some resolutions that China and Russia signed off on during the Obama years. The bill places draconian limits on North Korea’s exports of coal, lead, iron, lead ore, iron ore, and seafood. The resolution is estimated to wipe a third off the value of North Korea’s exports—at the tune of $1 billion a year.
The question of to what extent the resolution will be enforced remains unanswered. Haley was not exaggerating when she called it “the single largest economic sanctions package” ever leveled against the regime, while U.K. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft called the package “unprecedented.”
Trump is justified in his annoyance at the media coverage the resolution has received. While even the New York Times conceded it was a “major victory” for the U.S., the win hasn’t received the kind of fanfare even the mildest of Obama’s diplomatic successes were met with by the media:
The Fake News Media will not talk about the importance of the United Nations Security Council's 15-0 vote in favor of sanctions on N. Korea!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 7, 2017
The media, for all its elitist snorting at Trump’s “Twitter diplomacy” and his shunning of Obama’s “nuance,” are now facing an awkward conclusion for their editorial boards—Trump’s tough line on China just gained him an enormous victory on the world’s stage, and handed China a humiliating defeat.
Adam Shaw is a Breitbart News politics reporter based in New York. Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamShawNY