President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, President Donald Trump of the U.S. and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan agreed to denuclearize North Korea by stepping up pressure and implementing unbearable punitive measures on Pyongyang. The three allies’ leaders, who are currently attending a Group of 20 summit meeting in Hamburg, Germany, reached this agreement over dinner while reaffirming the principle of close cooperation among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan. Instead of favoring military action, they recognized dialogue as a means of achieving a peaceful resolution to the North Korea issue and called for China to play an active role in exerting pressure on the North.
With North Korea’s recent launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile posing an elevated threat to the Korean Peninsula, the reaffirmation has significance in that it deters Pyongyang’s further provocations and pressures the North to “choose a better path.” Furthermore, in times of military tension, seeking a peaceful resolution is also an important principle that has to be strictly followed. However, the overly China-dependent approach to the North Korea problem should be questioned. There is no doubt that Beijing, which has influence on Pyongyang, plays a particularly important role in handling the problem and that its attempts to pressure the recalcitrant regime failed to meet the expectations of the international community. Even so, it is neither with cause nor realistic to unload the responsibility for resolving the problem of the North solely onto China. The fundamental issue here is Washington’s nonchalant attitude toward the problem.
Basically, the North Korea issue is a product of hostile relations between the U.S. and the North. Nonetheless, the Trump administration, which has labeled its North Korea policy platform “maximum pressure and engagement,” has so far only pressured Pyongyang without yet implementing an engagement policy. President Trump’s solution to the North’s launch of an ICBM, which he defined as a serious threat to his country, is in consolidating China’s role. During the dinner last night, Mr. Trump insisted once again that the U.S. and its two allies should put more pressure on China to punish the North. Moreover, Washington has rejected a so-called “freeze for freeze” – a joint freezing of U.S.-South Korea military exercises and North Korea’s test launches of nuclear missiles – as suggested by China and Russia. The U.S., which has held the most responsibility for the North Korea problem, is letting China wag the dog that is the threat from North Korea, ignoring a realistic approach.
It is worrying that U.S. reluctance may increase China’s resistance to the close multilateral cooperation necessary for resolving the North Korea problem and eventually lead them to shake it. In fact, both Beijing and the Kremlin have been reluctant to adopt punitive resolutions against the rogue regime from the United Nations Security Council. Possibilities of conflict in the South Korea-U.S.-Japan alliance and the China-Russia alliance over the North Korea issue cannot be ruled out. The U.S. is the country with the most responsibility and the capability to fundamentally resolve the problem of North Korea. Therefore, Washington should jettison its China-dependent approach and take action itself.
In the face of the imminent threat posed by the North’s nuclear capability, the most immediate need is dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea. Washington should provide an audacious framework and proposals for the resolution of the North Korea problem and settle it directly with Kim Jong Un’s regime.