China’s government contradicted a claim that Trump made about their position regarding a proposal to freeze North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile tests:
China said on Thursday it will stick by its “freeze-for-freeze” plan to de-escalate tensions in the Korean Peninsula, contradicting a suggestion by President Trump that it had turned against it.
The proposal calls for North Korea to freeze its missile and nuclear tests in return for the United States and South Korea suspending their annual joint military exercises. On Wednesday, Trump suggested Chinese President Xi Jinping had acknowledged to him that the plan was a non-starter.
The apparent Chinese contradiction of Trump’s statement also highlights the lack of coherent policy put forward by the United States to actually usher North Korea along the path of denuclearization.
The administration’s goal of denuclearization is an unrealistic one in any case, but there will certainly not be progress in obtaining greater Chinese cooperation on North Korea if our government doesn’t even understand what the Chinese position is. The problem here is that Trump either badly misunderstood the Chinese position and went public with that misunderstanding, or he misrepresented it to make it seem as if his unctuous behavior towards Xi had paid off. Trump is so eager to claim “wins” from his Asia trip that it could be either one. If it was the latter, it won’t make Beijing more cooperative if the president claims that they have agreed to something that they haven’t.
The “freeze-for-freeze” proposal itself is hardly ideal, but it is at least based on a recognition that the U.S. and its allies will have to provide North Korea with some positive incentive to change its behavior if there is to be any chance of changing it. Punitive measures have been tried many times and have more often than not produced more intransigence rather than less. Every administration has been loath to be seen as “giving” North Korea anything, but unless the U.S. has some other proposal to make it should consider this one as the best option available for reducing tensions.