Donald Trump’s belief that China can influence North Korea to curtail its ICBM program is apparently waning. Trump tweeted some harsh criticism of China on Saturday night, threatening trade sanctions for their failure to rein in North Korea’s missile tests.
“I am very disappointed in China,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk.”
North Korea launched another long-range ICBM into the Sea of Japan Friday, the second major test by Pyongyang of such a weapon this year.
Pentagon officials confirmed that the weapon was a nuclear-capable ballistic missile. Launched from Mupyong-ni in northern central North Korea, the missile traveled roughly 1,000 kilometers or more than 600 miles before crash landing in the Sea of Japan, U.S. defense officials said.
Mr. Trump called the missile launch “the latest reckless and dangerous action by the North Korean regime.”
“By threatening the world, these weapons and tests further isolate North Korea, weaken its economy, and deprive its people,” he said. “The United States will take all necessary steps to ensure the security of the American homeland and protect our allies in the region.”
Mr. Trump made a concerted effort earlier this year to encourage Chinese President Xi Jinping to raise economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea to scale back its nuclear weapon and missile programs and reduce tensions in the region. China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner.
Was Trump wrong to believe that China would help out the U.S. on North Korea? On the surface, it was a perfectly rational move by the president. In fact, it may have been the only diplomatic play short of bombing.
But China’s reluctance to apply sufficient pressure on the Kim regime to get them to pull back on their ICBM development may be a sign that Beijing sees certain strategic advantages to a North Korea-U.S. standoff — certainly when it comes to their power play in the South China Sea and more generally to their growing influence and economic clout in East Asia.
In short, China is deliberately choosing not to intervene decisively with North Korea — at least not to the point that Kim would think twice about rattling the U.S. cage. The North Koreans still view China as a protector and nothing the Chinese have done so far has changed that view.
Perhaps if Trump were to go to the brink with North Korea, China might change its mind. They fear that war would unleash a massive refugee problem, creating a security and humanitarian nightmare on their border with North Korea. But short of that, it looks like the administration can forget receiving any significant assistance from China.