Trump must recognise China’s role in achieving peace in Korea
Denuclearisation will be a lengthy, years-long process and the Kim regime is eager to develop the North Korean economy, with the help of China
The summit between the leaders of the two Koreas in Pyongyang next month will be a significant step in easing tensions on the peninsula. But the key issue of denuclearisation also requires China’s involvement; as North Korea’s closest ally, Beijing has a crucial role in bringing about and ensuring peace and stability. US President Donald Trump’s repeated suggestion of Chinese interference in the process is therefore misguided. He should be seeking out and encouraging China’s help, not trying to curtail or prevent it.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had pointed words at the recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum in Singapore, warning China and Russia to strictly enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea. A few days earlier at a rally in Florida, Trump said China “maybe is getting in our way”, although he conceded Pyongyang had refrained from testing missiles and nuclear weapons since his landmark meeting with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, on June 12. Last month, Pyongyang also returned the remains of American soldiers killed during the 1950-53 Korean war. The US sentiments auger poorly for moving forward negotiations, which have reached a stalemate; the North’s foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, responded to Pompeo’s remarks with alarm, contending his country had made numerous goodwill gestures and still the US “is raising its voice louder for maintaining the sanctions”. Kim’s summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, at a date to be fixed, may help smooth the process.
The United States and North Korea have different definitions of what denuclearisation means and how it should be attained. Sanctions have an integral role for the Trump administration, being viewed as insurance to ensure the dismantling of weapons programmes. But denuclearisation will be a lengthy, years-long process and the Kim regime is eager to develop the North Korean economy. For all the Trump administration’s accusations that Chinese and Russian firms are violating the rules, it has yet to provide meaningful evidence.
UN experts do not believe the North has stopped its nuclear and missile programmes; a report handed to the Security Council last Friday concluded weapons parts and oil were being illicitly and illegally shipped. But it has also been recently reported that the North is dismantling its test sites. Whatever the reality, all efforts have to be made to ensure Kim stays on the path to denuclearisation. China is the North’s best hope for development of its economy. Beijing can also help facilitate talks. But perhaps its key role lies in guaranteeing the Kim regime’s security after weapons have been scrapped. Trump needs to recognise that reality.