North Korea on US-China Summit Agenda
Apr. 3, 2017
US President Donald Trump says North Korea will be on the agenda in his upcoming meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. His comments come as the North accelerates its nuclear and missile programs Trump will meet Xi on Thursday and Friday at his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Florida. It will be their first summit.
In an interview with the British newspaper Financial Times, Trump said China has great influence over North Korea. He said that if China decides not to help the US, it won't be good for anyone.
Trump went on to say the United States is prepared to solve North Korea on its own. But he didn't mention any specifics.
Separately, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley also urged China in an ABC interview to take a firmer stance on North Korea.
Last week, US researchers detected activity in North Korea that suggests preparations are underway for a sixth nuclear test.
Satellite images of the nuclear test site show what are believed to be communication cables laid out on the ground. These could be used for the test.
Experts believe that Pyongyang recently restarted a reactor at another nuclear facility that can produce plutonium.
In a New Year's address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country is actively engaged in developing advanced weapons.
"Research and development of cutting-edge weapons is progressing. Preparations to test launch an intercontinental ballistic missile are at the final stage," he announced.
On February 12th, Pyongyang fired its first ballistic missile since US President Trump took office. It fell into the Sea of Japan.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Trump were meeting in Florida at the time.
"North Korea's most recent missile launch is absolutely intolerable," Abe responded.
"The United States of America stands behind Japan. Its great ally, 100%," Trump said.
In March, the US and South Korea held their annual joint military exercise.
North Korea launched 4 ballistic missiles simultaneously toward the Sea of Japan.
The North's action was met with global criticism. The UN Security Council strongly condemned North Korea.
North Korea's state-run media announced its intentions, saying, "We will ruthlessly trample on any kind of maneuver with our own pre-emptive strikes."
Newsroom Tokyo Anchor Sho Beppu discussed the issue with Professor Narushige Michishita of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. He's an expert on security issues and the Korean Peninsula.
Beppu: First of all, regarding the threat level of North Korea’s recent nuclear and missile developments, how big of a problem is it for countries such as South Korea, Japan, and the United States?
Michishita: I think the biggest threat is faced by South Korea. But at the same time, it poses a threat to other countries -- the United States, and Japan. Why? Because the US has deployed large numbers of troops in South Korea to defend South Korea. But in doing so, South Korea and the US would face North Korean threats. In the case of Japan, it accommodates many important US bases. Those bases would be used by the United States forces in its efforts to defend S. Korea, so North Korea would also regard Japan as hostile. Japan can become a target in that kind of situation.
Before, like 10 years ago, North Korea didn’t have usable nuclear weapons. Certainly, Japan was under North Korean missile threat, but those missiles were only conventional, and at worst chemical weapons. But now, North Korean missiles coming at Japan might be carrying nuclear weapons. And that would be a dire threat to this country.
Beppu: Talking about the leader Kim Jong Un, some people say that he’s a very irrational man, his behavior is very erratic. You were saying that he may actually not be as irrational as he appears to outsiders; that he might be behaving according to his own interests. Why do you think so?
Michishita: Some people say and think that Kim Jong Un is crazier than his father, but I tend to think that he’s doing a better job than his father.
Kim Jong Un is developing nuclear weapons, missiles -- certainly bad things from our perspective, but they might be actually in the regime interests of North Korea. He has not made such big mistakes, which undermine North Korea so far, so I would say certainly Kim Jong Un is not a nice person, but he’s pretty rational.
Without nuclear weapons and missiles, no country would be paying attention to North Korea. So, I mean in order for regime survival, in order for North Korea to be able to engage in dialogue with other countries, negotiate in a competitive way, North Korea does need nuclear weapons and missiles. That’s unfortunate but I think that might be in the regime interests of North Korea.
The key players involved in this issue -- the United States and China -- have criticized Pyongyang, but their strategies for solving the current problems seem to be somewhat incompatible.
The US President has consistently demanded that China must play a greater role.
"Well, I think China has tremendous control over North Korea. Whether they say so or not is up to them, but they have tremendous control over North Korea. I think they could solve the problem very easily, if they want to," Trump said.
However, Beijing says that Washington must also make some concessions.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, "China proposes that North Korea suspend its nuclear and missile activities in exchange for a halt to US and South Korean military exercises. This could help us solve the current security dilemma. "
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made an Asia tour last month. North Korea was high on his agenda.
In Seoul, Tillerson revealed that the United States is exploring a new range of policies to deal with the North.
"Obviously, if North Korea takes actions that threatens South Korean forces or our own forces, that will be met with an appropriate response. If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table," he said.
At the end of the tour, Tillerson met China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
The US Secretary of State stressed that China, along with the US, should increase pressure on the North. But Wang noted that UN Security Council resolutions clearly call for efforts to resume dialogue with Pyongyang. Their talks highlighted differences of opinion between the 2 countries.
Beppu: The United States, in order to counter North Korea, is reviewing its policies against Pyongyang. Secretary Tillerson said that all options are on the table. Many interpret that to include military options. But do you think such an option would work?
Michishita: That would be very difficult because of two things. One is that North Korea has developed and deployed nuclear weapons programs in multiple numbers, and large numbers of different types of missiles in different places. They are deployed in a well-protected manner, so it would be very difficult for the US to take out important parts of those capabilities in one big shot.
So if the US takes such action, North Korea would almost certainly undertake retaliatory action. Not against the US, but against South Korea. North Korea might attempt to turn Seoul into a sea of fire -- that’s their rhetoric. That’s one thing. Retaliation against Seoul probably makes it difficult for the US to take such action in an effective manner.
Beppu: Do you think leaders in Tokyo would be happy to see such an action or in another way, do you think they in fact would not like to see that?
Michishita: Well sure, it would be nice if all the nuclear weapons and missiles that North Korea possesses were gone. But first, that’s not easy to do militarily. And if there’s a major conflict on the Korean peninsula, Japan might get drawn into it, and missiles might be coming at Japan and that would not be in the national interest. So certainly, the idea of putting pressure on North Korea is fine. But actually using force is quite another.
Beppu: Now talking about diplomatic fronts, we’re waiting for the meeting that will take place between the presidents of the United States and China this week. We do know that both countries have very different approaches to Pyongyang. If the two countries can narrow their gap, in terms of their approach, how can they do that?
Michishita: I think there’s a room for agreement because the US would like to see China put more pressure on North Korea, and China would like to see the US engage in dialogue with North Korea. And so the US can ask China to do more to put pressure on North Korea, while the US agrees to engage in dialogue. That would work perfectly well because in order to talk to North Korea you would have to have leverage and pressure coming from China. If this happens, then the US and China can work closely together in talking with North Korea and that would maximize the effectiveness of the dialogue.
Beppu: But even so, we do know by experience that having dialogue with North Korea doesn’t really bear fruit. At least that’s been the case in past years. Some people say that we shouldn’t just talk for the sake of talking. So if a dialogue would be a solution, what’s needed to make it a solution that bears concrete fruit?
Michishita: First, we have to understand the fact that there’s no perfect deal, and negotiated deal is not perfect by definition because the two sides have to make certain concessions. So I think we have to be realistic in setting goals. In the short run, I would say a freezing of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs is the most important objective. And in the long run, while the US, China, Japan, and other countries take steps, a step-by-step approach to make it possible for North Korea to improve its social economic conditions would be a pretty good deal. But it will take time.
Beppu: Now that the US is increasing its criticism of China's trade policies, it looks even more difficult for the two countries to narrow their differences on how to deal with Pyongyang.
But the North Korean military threat is real and all countries share a common interest in finding a peaceful solution.
This is why the upcoming summit between the US and China is very important.
The world will be watching carefully to see whether the two leaders can try to show their wisdom and work toward reconciling their differences.