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  World   Asia  03 Jul 2017  It’s time for China’s bluff to be called over North Korea

It’s time for China’s bluff to be called over North Korea

THE ASIAN AGE. | SKAND TAYAL
Published : Jul 3, 2017, 12:49 am IST
Updated : Jul 3, 2017, 12:49 am IST

The culpable “all parties” certainly include DPRK’s chief patron China and accomplice Pakistan.

In this file photo, President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk together after their meetings at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. The White House is suddenly engaged in a multipronged pressure campaign against Beijing, borne of frustration with the limited results of their much-touted cooperation on ending North Korea’s nuclear threat. (Photo: AP)
 In this file photo, President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk together after their meetings at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. The White House is suddenly engaged in a multipronged pressure campaign against Beijing, borne of frustration with the limited results of their much-touted cooperation on ending North Korea’s nuclear threat. (Photo: AP)

There is a significant para on the Korean peninsula in the June 26 joint statement issued after the keenly watched Modi-Trump summit. In a forceful rebuke, the two leaders “strongly condemned continued provocations by North Korea emphasising that its destabilising pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missiles programmes pose a grave threat to regional security and global peace.” Importantly, the leaders “pledged to work together to counter the DPRKs weapons of mass destruction programmes, including by holding accountable all parties that support these programmes”. The culpable “all parties” certainly include DPRK’s chief patron China and accomplice Pakistan.

This para reflects the serious concern of President Donald Trump over the rising nuclear and missile capacity of North Korea, which would soon acquire the capacity to strike at mainland US. In comparison, there was no mention of North Korea in the India-US joint statement issued after Modi-Obama summit in Washington in June 2016. And in January 2015, the India-US joint statement after President Barack Obama’s visit to New Delhi had merely “expressed concern” over DPRK’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

In the joint press interaction with Mr Modi, Mr Trump thanked the Indian people “for joining (the US) in applying new sanctions against the North Korean regime”. He added that “North Korean regime is causing tremendous problems and is something that has to be dealt with and probably dealt with rapidly.” The word “rapidly” indicates that the US is running out of time as North Korea doggedly pursues its quest for a credible nuclear deterrent against its archenemy, the US.

In his campaign, candidate Donald Trump had identified North Korea’s nuclear and missile programme as a serious issue and had sought to pressurise China to prevail over the North Korean leadership to stop their development. As early as on February 10, 2016, Mr Trump told CBS in an interview that “I will tell China — You have to got to do it.” And he linked measures against China’s huge trade surplus to the resolution of the North Korean problem.

This approach continued when President Trump assumed office. In January this year, President Trump remarked that he would work with China to “make that guy (Kim Jong-un) disappear” and added that China had complete control over North Korea.

In an audacious provocation, North Korea launched a ballistic missile on February 10 when President Trump was hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his Florida resort. An upset Mr Abe said that “North Korea’s most recent missile launch is absolutely intolerable.” President Trump declared that the US stood 100 per cent behind Japan.

After the keenly watched Trump-Xi Jinping summit in Mar-a-Lago on April 7, secretary of state Rex W. Tillerson had said that the two leaders had agreed that North Korea’s nuclear development had reached a serious stage. He reiterated President Trump’s policy that the US remained steady to pursue a unilateral strategy that included military deployment, should additional pressure from China not produce the desired outcome on North Korea. Prior to the summit, President Trump had made it clear that he would offer a sweet trade deal to China in case China delivers on North Korea.

On June 12, in a testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, secretary of defence James Mattis identified North Korea as “the most urgent and dangerous threat to (international) peace and security”. Earlier in his confirmation hearings, Mr Mattis had named Russia as the main threat.

Emergence of an openly belligerent nuclear North Korea capable of striking the US mainland would be totally unacceptable to the Trump administration as has been made clear repeatedly by President Trump himself. The New York Times reported in early March that the Trump administration was considering options, including direct missile strikes on North Korean launch sites and reintroducing nuclear weapons in South Korea.

In fact, all possible options before the US are bad. North Korea reportedly has 12,000 artillery pieces embedded in the hills in demilitarised zone and targeted towards heavily populated areas of South Korea, including Seoul. Twenty million South Koreans, including 28,500 American soldiers, are in the range of these guns and there are estimates of more than 40,000 casualties in South Korea within 24 hours of a full-fledged armed conflict.

The only option — short of war — is to lean heavily on China so that it forces North Korea to halt both its nuclear and missile programmes. But is China sincere in applying such pressure? If China stops supply of POL, will the North Korean leadership succumb? The North Korean response would be unpredictable, but China is too big and strong to be bullied by North Korea.

The lukewarm attempts by China to pressure North Korea reveal a clever practice of the art of deception by the Chinese leadership. The wayward behaviour of successive North Korean leaders and US paranoia has given considerable leverage to China in its strategic competition with the US. In dealing with the US, the Chinese have taken a leaf from their “all-weather friend” Pakistan. Pakistan leadership has successfully duped successive US administrations reneging on their solemn promises to take action against Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Chinese are likely to follow the same path — make empty promises to President Trump and keep Mr Kim on a leash, but not tight enough to throttle his nuclear ambitions.

In a press conference with newly-elected South Korean President on June 30, President Trump warned that years of “strategic patience” with North Korea had failed and it was now time for a “determined response”.

Any armed action against North Korea would inevitably result in horrific destruction of life and property of the steadfast US ally, South Korea. This is certainly to be avoided. The only viable option available to President Trump is to call China’s bluff and apply economic pressure on China through restrictions on Chinese exports to the US. China would certainly understand as it is giving the same treatment to South Korea to punish that hapless country for their exercise of sovereign right by installing the US-sponsored anti-missile system THAAD.

On June 20, Mr Trump had expressed his impatience and tweeted that “While I greatly appreciate the efforts of the President Xi and China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out.”

The US media reported end June that President Trump was growing increasingly frustrated with China over its inaction on North Korea and was considering possible trade actions against Beijing, including tariffs on steel imports. On June 29, the US slapped sanctions on a Chinese bank, a Chinese company and two Chinese individuals for their ties in North Korea. In a swift response, Chinese spokesman warned the US to “stop wrongful actions” to avoid harming cooperation between the two nations.

It is time China is held accountable for the misdeeds of at least one of its close rogue allies for threatening international peace and stability — both regionally and globally.

The writer has served as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan and South Korea

Tags: donald trump, shinzo abe, dprks weapons