US Vice President Mike Pence, whose father was a decorated veteran of the Korean War, visited the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea on Monday. Standing less than 100 feet from the buffer separating the divided country, Pence warned that all options are on the table and that North Korea should not mistake the resolve of the United States.
But weighing options for a response to North Korea’s continued military provocations, the White House is finding that their hands are tied as was the case for previous administrations. Military action is too great a risk with Seoul a stone’s throw away from North Korean artillery.
It is clear that Trump is hoping to put his newfound friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping to the test on the North Korea issue. In a tweet on Sunday, the president indicated his decision not to label China a currency manipulator was linked to their cooperation reigning in Kim Jong-un’s rogue regime.
Later on Sunday, Trump’s national security advisor Lieutenant General HR McMaster emphasized China’s role. “We’re also going to have to rely on Chinese leadership. I mean, North Korea is very vulnerable to pressure from the Chinese. 80% of North Korea’s trade comes from China. All of their energy requirements are fulfilled by China.”
Reuters reported last week that harsher sanctions against the Kim regime currently under consideration include an oil embargo, a global ban on its airline, and intercepting cargo ships. Will China get on board?
Despite China’s historic intransigence on the issue, each act of continued belligerence on the part of Kim Jong-un has the potential to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back with Xi. China’s president has shown greater impatience with the young dictator than previous Chinese administrations ever showed with Kim’s father and grandfather.
We will find out soon enough if Trump is able to succeed where the US has always failed, getting China to get tough on North Korea. And if he fails? Then we get to see if Trump really is a paper tiger on his tough trade talk with China.