Eamonn Fingleton wants Trump to call China’s bluff and demand they “swat” the North Korean “gnat”:
At the heart of the North Korean controversy is a Chinese double game. On the one hand, Chinese leaders pretend to be as eager as their American counterparts to shut down the North Korean nuclear program. On the other hand, they never seem to use their influence in Pyongyang to clinch the deal.
Yet it is hard to exaggerate the extent of Beijing’s influence. If the CIA Factbook is to be believed, at last count the Chinese supplied more than 76 percent of all North Korea’s imports and bought more than 75 percent of its exports. The North Koreans are heavily dependent on China for, among other vital supplies, their oil. Their moribund industrial sector would grind to a halt without copious supplies of spare parts and indeed entire machines sourced through China.
Then there are North Korea’s external air links. The vast majority of foreign visitors reach Pyongyang via four Chinese airports: Beijing Capital, Shanghai Pudong, Shenyang, and Dandong.
Trump seems to be offering Beijing a choice: either apply effective pressure on Pyongyang or stand aside while the United States takes a hands-on approach. That latter option would appear—at least for negotiating purposes—to include the threat of American military action.
The chances are, however, that it won’t come to that. If Trump holds tight, Beijing will blink first. After all, Pyongyang’s antics have long since ceased to be a joke. If press reports are to be believed, the North Korean missile program has lately made such strides that the Kim Jong-un regime may be able to deliver a nuclear strike to the U.S. mainland by 2020. While more thoughtful analysts may question that timeline, the reality is that North Korea’s repeated boasting of its intention to build missiles with such a capability leaves Beijing with little room for maneuver.
Once Beijing’s cooperation is secured, Pyongyang would surely have to comply, not only dismantling its program but opening up to United Nations inspections.
It’s all so simple. Talk tough to the Chinese, and they’ll surely do what we want to prevent us from using military action against North Korea. And then they’ll surely force North Korea to do whatever we want them to. What could possibly have prevented Obama, or Bush II, or Clinton, or Bush I, from pursuing such a course?
Oh, I dunno:
- Of course America has a credible plan for military action against North Korea that would reliably eliminate its nuclear program, because we have perfect intelligence about not only where all the key facilities are located but also how many weapons they’ve already built and where they are stored.
- Naturally, we have the support of Japan and South Korea in carrying out any mission to preemptively strike North Korea targets. Neither country is worried at all about North Korean retaliation, neither conventional nor nuclear. Nor should we have any concerns about the 28,000+ American troops stationed in South Korea.
- To convince the Chinese that we really mean to use force if they don’t act by a certain date, we’re going to clue them in to the details of our planned surprise attack. This will absolutely not leak.
- Or we’re just going to assume that the Chinese couldn’t possibly believe we’re the ones bluffing about taking unilateral military action. They would never just assure us that they will take action, and then sit on their hands and dare us to follow through on our threats.
- If China cuts off North Korea’s oil, North Korea will just fold. Because countries never respond with irrational belligerence to having their oil cut off. And definitely nobody is worried about North Korea getting oil instead from some other country that is hostile to America.
- Also, North Korea can fold easily to foreign pressure, because the legitimacy of their government is not at all tied to having freed Korea from foreign invaders.
- And if they are wrong about that, and North Korea collapses, neither China nor South Korea are going to have any concerns about the flood of refugees that will pour over the border. Their priority, like ours, is going to be North Korea’s nuclear program, not preserving stability on the peninsula.
- Threats to cut off Chinese exports to America if they don’t “take care of” North Korea will be totally credible, because the American economy is not at all dependent on China, and they would totally be hurt way more than we are.
- Also the politics of such a move would be great for us and terrible for them, because the Chinese people would never rally around their government in response to American bullying, while American voters would happily suffer a steep recession in order to prove that we’re still Top Nation.
- Beyond all these details, the important thing to realize is that history is full of examples of great powers successfully bullying each other with threats of economic warfare, and presents even more examples of disarmament efforts achieved by unilateral military action.
I’m so glad we have nothing to worry about, and I look forward to the conclusion of a successful summit in Mar-a-Lago.