Direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang the only solution to Korean crisis
Sanctions have not worked, a missile defence system is not foolproof and war is unthinkable; dialogue is the only sensible answer
Donald Trump’s strategy towards North Korea is such a failure that a different US tack is obviously needed. Sanctions and threats have not prevented Kim Jong-un’s regime from developing rockets apparently capable of carrying nuclear warheads to the American mainland, as last week’s second successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile showed. The US leader’s response was yet more criticism of Beijing for not doing enough to stop Pyongyang’s weapons programmes, further testing of a missile defence system and the flying of bombers over the Korean peninsula, all in the wake of yet more sanctions approved by the US Congress.
That leaves only three options – stronger defences, military conflict or dialogue. The United States and its ally, Japan, have stepped up pressure on China to impose tougher sanctions and Trump is reportedly looking at trade measures against Beijing to force action. But security on the Korean peninsula and beyond and trade between China and the US are unrelated issues. Sanctions do not work; Kim has flouted with impunity those imposed against his country by the United Nations and others, enabling uninterrupted weapons development. As China’s ambassador to the UN, Liu Jieyi, pointed out, it is primarily up to Washington and Pyongyang, not Beijing, to reduce tensions and find a solution.
A war is obviously out of the question; US ally South Korea would be the hardest hit. Missile defences have limitations; the battery for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system known as THAAD that the US is building in South Korea against objections from residents and China and Russia will be severely tested should North Korea launch volleys of rockets. Confusingly, South Korean President Moon Jae-in responded to the latest test by approving the installation of the last four of six launchers to the battery. He froze construction after taking office in June, the gesture as much to appease Koreans as China, which considered the powerful radar system at the site an intrusion.
Last month, the liberal politician reversed the position of his disgraced predecessor, Park Geun-hye, by offering North Korea negotiations to end hostilities along their heavily armed border and a fresh round of reunions of families separated by the war. His latest decision jeopardises such overtures and potentially puts at risk talks with President Xi Jinping (習近平) expected for later this year.
Trump holds the key to ending the crisis; North Korea and the US have not signed a peace treaty ending the war, but Washington has refused dialogue until Pyongyang scraps its nuclear programme. Kim has thumbed his nose at the sanctions and threats, proving how flawed the approach is. The only sensible option is talking to the regime.