Trump must deal directly with the despot Kim Jong-un
The North Korean leader has no qualms when it comes to crossing the line and it is the United States that is in the best position to deal with this threat
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s ruthless ways have been plainly on show in recent weeks. The murder of his exiled half-brother at Kuala Lumpur’s airport and the firing of an intermediate-range missile may seem unconnected, but share a common goal. Both actions reveal the extent Kim is willing to go to eliminate perceived threats. China has done what it can to make the regime see reason over its nuclear and missile programmes and can best serve as a facilitator to talks, so now it is time for US President Donald Trump to take a key role.
Trump had expressed a willingness to meet Kim during campaigning for the presidency, at one time saying he would like to share a hamburger with the leader. He was restrained after the missile test on February 12, although Defence Secretary James Mattis had earlier warned that the US would respond to any threats with “overwhelming force”. But the assassination of Kim Jong-nam shortly after the rocket launch has altered circumstances, prompting a flurry of meetings between officials from China, the US, Japan and South Korea. Approval for visas for a North Korean team scheduled to hold informal talks in Washington was last week abruptly withdrawn.
As North Korea’s closest ally, China has long been under pressure from the US to impose tough economic sanctions. Its suspension last month of coal imports until at least the end of the year infuriated North Korea and a senior Pyongyang diplomat is in Beijing for five days of talks. But Beijing is limited in what it can do; to cut off energy and food supplies to its northern neighbour could cause a collapse of the isolated state and a potential flood of millions of refugees across the border.
The coal was a valuable income source for North Korea and without directly naming Beijing, it has voiced its criticism of its neighbour for “unhesitatingly taking inhumane steps”. With annual joint military exercises between the US and South Korea starting yesterday, a worrying situation has arisen. The drills are a show of force and are carried out not far from the demilitarised zone that separates the Koreas. Pyongyang perceives they are preparation for a military strike and last year carried out its fifth nuclear test while they were taking place.
North Korea’s strategy is to force the US into peace talks, but its provocations and threats have had the opposite effect. China’s ability to forge a diplomatic breakthrough is limited and its position makes it best suited to coordinating and bringing sides together. Trump holds the key; a solution to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat lies in the direct involvement of the US.