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Panel: North Korean ICBM Test Reduces Options for Washington, Beijing to Curb Pyongyang

North Korean KN-14 Launch on July 4, 2017. KCNA Photo

North Korea’s successful test of a missile capable of hitting the United States has dramatically limited the options Washington and Beijing have in reining in Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, two leading Chinese security analysts said Thursday.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank, Zhu Feng of Nanjing University, declaring himself “a little more pessimistic” than his fellow panelists, said the choices are coming down to the United States intervening militarily and China abandoning the regime of Kim Jong-un in order to put the brakes on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

The North Koreans “consider nuclear weapons [as essential] to their security,” and Kim uses them to show his countrymen “how admirable he is” to have developed them for the regime’s protection. At this stage, “there is no way they will abandon” their nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.

Before Zhu spoke, Zhang Tuosheng, of the China Foundation for International and Security Studies, said answering a question on whether now was the last chance to negotiate the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, “In two or three years, they will cross the nuclear threshold like India, Pakistan and Israel.” When Pyongyang does that, “there will be no going back.”

He said during that period there was a chance for negotiations among the United States, China and North Korea to stop Kim from crossing that threshold. “If North Korea becomes a de facto nuclear state, it would be a disaster for China” and “many people [other countries] will follow suit” in the Asia-Pacific region . This raises the possibility “of so many nuclear states surrounding China.”

Zhang called for Washington and Beijing to work together to keep this final step from happening, although he held out hope that the United States and North Korea would reach some compromise now. But if a freeze in the nuclear program doesn’t occur, “we must prepare for the worst” and that included Washington, Beijing and Seoul reaching a common accord on how to proceed.

Zhu said China “could do a lot more” to stop North Korea’s drive to miniaturize its weapons for delivery on ballistic missiles. But he drew the line at cutting off all trade between the two countries because “it is our leverage” in dealing with Kim’s regime. China and Russia are threatening to veto new sanctions on North Korea for this week’s missile test.

On the other hand, Bonnie Glaser of CSIS pointed to a number of smaller banks in north east China that maintain strong financial links with North Korea as being a source of income to keep its weapons of mass destruction afloat. She estimated that between 2009 and 2016 more than $300 million became available to Pyongyang through these banks.

At the same time, the regime is skimming off the top wages its workers are receiving working overseas that it is using to support its military as well. Although they deal in currencies other than dollars, she said these banks could be targeted for U.S. sanctions.

“Eighty-eight percent of North Korea’s trade is with China,” and that gives China influence with Pyongyang.

While agreeing with other panelists that North Korea wants to be internationally recognized as a nuclear power, she added it also does not want China to adopt the role of offering Pyongyang its nuclear umbrella for its protection.

“They went to deliver [a nuclear weapon] to the United States” to back up their own claims to be a power to be reckoned with.

For the United States and China, “dealing with North Korea is a trip to the land of bad policy options,” David Finkelstein of CNA said. “Sooner or later China is going to have to lean one way or the other” in stopping North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction program.

  • Blain Shinno

    Two questions regarding China:
    1. Do they have the ability to influence the DPRK to end missile testing and development?
    2. If yes, is there anything the U.S. can do anything to convince China to use its influence?

    I don’t think anyone knows the answer to either question. China certainly has no interest at this time of helping the U.S. out of this crisis. China does not want the reunification of the Korean peninsula – which would be the result if Kim escalated after a U.S. preemptive strike. Could the U.S. convince China to act if it believed war was imminent? I believe that is only way a diplomatic option could work.

    Otherwise, the U.S. is left with the option of doing nothing and relying of deterrence or initiating a preemptive air strike against nuclear and missile facilities. Half measures such as covert action, cyber warfare, or a psyops campaign will likely not work.

    The morning after an airstrike Kim will have two options. Do essentially nothing. Or launch a war which will bring an end to him and his regime.

  • FelixA9

    I know. Let’s wait until they nuke us before we do anything to prevent it. I’m sure that will work out swimmingly.

  • SFC Steven M Barry USA RET

    How about the US just pulls out of Korea altogether? End “crisis.”

  • SFC Steven M Barry USA RET

    Peace treaty… pff. All that means is becoming a US puppet state. How about this: “It’s been 64 years, the war is long over, we’re going home.” ROK can take care of itself.

  • John B. Morgen

    China has no pull whatsoever with North Korean, and we should stop kidding ourselves. We should increase the number of troops up to 100,000+, and prepared a strike against North Korean targets.

    • Secundius

      Agreed!/? I think that the PRC is just as Afraid of NK as everyone else is. They don’t what to do, because NK could just as easily turn on them (the PRC)…

      • John B. Morgen

        I don’t think so because the PRC’s nuclear forces are a lot better developed than the North Korea’s nuclear arms; plus, the PRC has a many times larger military than North Korea’s military forces. In sum, I would think that China could easily turn on them, which would be the better option than seeing an increase of American forces being stationed in South Korea.

        • Secundius

          If Pressed?/! Right now NK is like a “Three Card Monte”!/? That Attention AWAY from the PRC and the South China Sea. But like any “Gamble”, NK could Turn a Bite it’s “Stakes Masters” (those Funding the Great Game)…

          • John B. Morgen

            The North Koreans are playing a much dangerous game, if they go against China. After all, North Korea was once a Chinese vassal during the Imperial China era. China might decide to add North Korea as an very old missing part of China.

          • Secundius

            The problem Right Now, is the fact that NK is drawing Too Much Attention too itself!/? The PRC is Trying to Keep the US Navy OUT of the South China Sea. And “North Korea Fats” is Drawing the US Navy INTO the South China Sea. If the PRC doesn’t curb and/or control “NK Fats”, the US Navy is going to have a Much More Military Presence in the South China Sea…

          • John B. Morgen

            It just shows that China has no influence over North Korean politics, nor its leaders. The Chinese may have to remove the ruling North Korean regime, in order to change the political direction within the region.

          • Secundius

            The only problem being?/! Most NK’s “WON’T” Give Up without a Fight, regardless of what the “Elite” WANT or are Forced Into by the PRC…

          • John B. Morgen

            Maybe or maybe not, but the Chinese have to make an offer that the North Korean People cannot refuse, for exchange for peace and also the removal of President Kim. There’s a price for everything, however, it is just the matter of finding it.

          • Secundius

            I suspect that, that Offer is going to be the Reunification of the Two Korea’s, with North Korea being the Capitol. And with Trump in Office, a Distinct Possibility…

          • John B. Morgen

            The Right-wing of the GOP won’t go along with that idea because they are going to insist that Seoul will be capitol of a new unified nation-state.

          • Secundius

            Probably NOT!/? But it doesn’t mean that Trump won’t Try, “When Push Comes to Shove”. Also considering at Trump owes the PRC in excess of $600-Million USD…

          • John B. Morgen

            Trump’s company owes the Chinese banks $600 million USDs. That’s a lot of pennies for one man.

          • Secundius

            In 5 April 2017, Japan and Germany signed a Mutual Defense Agreement. It’s only a matter of time before South Korea joins in too. “IF” Donald Trump Decides HE really DOESN’T what to honor the agreement made February 2017 between the US and Japan…

          • John B. Morgen

            Let’s hope that the leadership of GOP and our generals keep Trump really focus on the real threats than whoever tweets him.

          • Secundius

            Just heard a “Tidbit” that the Gloves are OFF between Putin and Trump?/! Appears Putin doesn’t Like Trump anymore and is going to STOP giving Donald Trump “Pleasantries” of how Wonderful Trump is as a President!/? I wonder if this means that Donald Trump’s “Skeletons” are Finally coming out of the Family Closet by way of Vladimir Putin. If it Does? Donal Trump is going to have a Global Meltdown…

          • John B. Morgen

            Yes! Trump will start a war between us and North Korea, which will bring all of us down with him….Then Trump will blame Congress or his party for starting the war.

          • Secundius

            I’m starting to wonder if NK is “Suicide by the United States” (aka Donald Trump). As a means of the United States, RIDDING the PRC of an Embarrassment of THEIR (the PRC’s) Making. And Embarrassing the United States in the “World of Public Opinion” (Consternation) at the Same Time…

          • John B. Morgen

            That is quite logical and rational thing to do by a nation-state. I remembered Otto von Bismarck had tricked the French going to war against the King of Prussia, which united all of the German states under the king’s banner that made him to become the Kaiser of Imperial Germany after France was defeated in 1871..