The Hwasong-14 is seen in an undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency. Photo: KCNA via Reuters

North Korea is claiming it now has the capability to hit the United States with a nuclear weapon, after testing another advanced missile on Tuesday.

While such an assertion is hard to confirm so early after the test, one thing is clear: Pyongyang’s missile program is entering a critical phase and is no longer a distant threat.

Initially, President Donald Trump gambled that personal diplomacy –buddying up to Chinese President Xi Jinping — would yield results.

Such a strategy was a smart play, as the majority of food and fuel Pyongyang needs to survive comes from China. But Beijing, at least from what we know in the public sphere, has done little to rein in its ally.

So where does this leave the Trump administration?

What are its options for dealing with a North Korea that has or will very soon have the capability to deliver atomic terror to the US?

If we look outside the box and think strategically, there is a lot Washington can do to not only contain Pyongyang, but slow the ability of Kim Jong-un to rapidly increase his nuclear arsenal.

As a first step, Washington needs to begin sanctioning anyone helping North Korea build nuclear weapons or advanced missiles — and not just one Chinese bank and a few individuals, as the Trump administration did recently.

The US. government has a pretty clear idea who is aiding and abetting Pyongyang’s nuclear efforts — they need to be outed and shamed for their evil deeds.

If they are a bank or financial institution they need to be cut off from using the US financial system in any way — what amounts to a death sentence.

Next, North Korea needs to be surrounded by missile defense platforms as a way to negate their ability to do damage to US allies in the region.

Next, North Korea needs to be surrounded by missile defense platforms as a way to negate their ability to do damage to US allies in the region.

With over 1,000 missiles in its arsenal, we know for a fact missile defense won’t solve the problem. But working to lessen the threats South Korea and Japan face will certainly shift the strategic initiative back in our favor.

Washington must also make sure Seoul not only keeps the THAAD missile defense batteries it has now, but President Trump should suggest to Prime Minister Abe to expand Japan’s defenses, with a deployment of THAAD there as well.

Thirdly, as military force is no option to rein in the North Korean nuclear threat — if you can’t destroy every nuclear weapon Kim would have every incentive to lob what he has left at any available target — we must employ whatever cyber tools are available to slow Pyongyang’s nuclear advance.

If we can damage the computers, equipment and technology being used to build such awful weapons, increasing the costs dramatically, it will give Washington and its allies valuable time to make the best decisions possible — and maybe even bring North Korea to the negotiating table.

And lastly, President Trump at the G-20 needs to have a very frank and tough conversation with President Xi.

It is long past the time that Beijing sees the need to get North Korea to back off its aggressive actions. While we have been lucky thus far, imagine if one of Kim’s missiles landed accidently in South Korea or Japan, killing innocent people.

Not only would Seoul and Tokyo respond with North Korea striking back, but China, by its own hands-off policies, would have blood on its hands.

Beijing does not need to work to end the regime or even reduce food or fuel aid, but it needs to work with Pyongyang to make it clear it must stop missile and nuclear testing now. That is not only in China’s best interests but North Korea’s as well.

While we are certainly in for a time of tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, we are not destined for war or a conflict.

Now is the time for the Trump administration to get tough when it comes to North Korea. Indeed, the era of strategic patience, thanks to Pyongyang’s rockets, is truly over.

Harry J Kazianis

Harry J Kazianis is director of defense studies at The Center for the National Interest and Executive Editor of its publishing arm, the National Interest.

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