Dissatisfied with China’s half-hearted pressure on North Korea, the Trump administration is rolling out some economic guns. It reportedly is preparing sanctions against an array of small Chinese banks that provide support for North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.
This would be an excellent step toward curbing Pyongyang’s increasingly aggressive and menacing behavior. More, however, will have to be done, for North Korea’s ballistic missile program is advancing rapidly.
Its most recent test suggests the regime of Kim Jong Un now has the capacity to strike Alaska or Hawaii. This reveals the urgency of the situation. American cities are under threat of nuclear annihilation from the most paranoid and unpredictable regime in the world.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration has so far been long on talk and relatively short on action.
What we have learned from the president’s efforts is that China has no intention of putting the hammer down on North Korea. That’s a big problem, because Beijing is crucial to changing North Korean behavior. Without Chinese trade and Chinese economic ties, Kim Jong Un’s impoverished kingdom would have nothing.
Correspondingly, Washington must do whatever it takes to alter China’s attitude towards North Korea. It must come to believe that Pyongyang’s missile program is as much its problem as it is America’s. To do that, Trump will have to increase pressure on China in several fields: economic, military, and political.
Trump could threaten tough sanctions against bigger and more important Chinese businesses, such as investment banks, if China does not put a stranglehold on the North Korean economy. There is always a risk that the Chinese will choose to retaliate instead of complying. But given the dire situation, this is a risk the Trump must take. It is, at least, a much smaller risk than war with North Korea.