- North Korea and the US have not had official talks for years
- Washington has sought to bring pressure to bear on Pyongyang through Beijing
North Korea’s test of a long-range missile Friday that could potentially hit major US cities drew condemnation from the US, China, Japan and South Korea, and calls for a rethinking in tactics toward Pyongyang, given the dramatic escalation in its capabilities.
It was a seemingly stark admission — the US ambassador to the UN suggesting the North Korean crisis couldn’t be solved through diplomatic channels in the Security Council.
Analysts said that Haley’s comments publicly undermined the Security Council, which has been at the forefront of sanctions that have attempted to contain North Korea’s nuclear and missile program, albeit with little success.
“Problem is she makes herself and the UN process irrelevant if she says there’s nothing we can do here,” said John Delury, an expert on Chinese-Korean relations at Seoul’s Yonsei University. “Then we stop listening to her and the UN becomes totally (pointless).”
“Our foolish past leaders have allowed (Beijing) to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk,” Trump tweeted.
In a written response Monday to CNN, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang did not directly address Trump’s message, but reiterated Beijing’s long-standing positions on North Korea.
“China has fulfilled its responsibility in promoting a proper resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue and our efforts have been clear for all to see. The issue was not caused by China and its resolution requires multilateral efforts,” he said.
On Monday, Trump spoke to his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, committing to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea.
No good option
Under Trump, the United States has shifted its focus to pressuring China to rein in North Korea.
Both the diplomatic and the China-centric avenues still have their proponents.
The Obama and Trump administrations have placed great weight on Beijing acting to contain its neighbor and longtime ally, but some analysts warn assumptions about China’s influence on the North Korean regime may be out of date.
“Beijing’s channels to Pyongyang are frayed, they’re weak,” Delury said.
“President Trump’s tweets reflect this inherited Obama view that the road to Pyongyang leads through Beijing — that’s a dead end.”
Time for talks?
That approach is looking increasingly absurd, Lewis pointed out. “We’ve consistently had this idea that the North Koreans are a joke and we don’t have to give them anything,” he said. “People were wrong about that, the North Koreans didn’t get strong armed (at the six-party talks), they built nuclear weapons, and now they’ve built an ICBM.”
“As much as I would like North Korea to freeze and end its nuclear program, no combination of threats, engagement, negotiations, and sanctions, has produced that outcome,” he wrote.
Instead, Wolfsthal said the US should move toward a policy of deterring Pyongyang from ever using its weapons: “The Trump administration must communicate directly with its North Korean counterparts to ensure they have a clear understanding of what actions would provoke a direct US response.”
Delury said the US “needs to open up high level channels directly with with Pyongyang, as direct to Kim Jong Un as possible, and work it from there.”
Moon Sang-gyun, spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of National Defense, said Monday that invitation remained: “The military’s stance of strongly responding to North Korea’s provocations hasn’t changed a single bit. But I’d like to say that doors are always open for dialogue.”