The US Should Not Hope To Outsource the North Korean Nuclear Problem to China

According to foreign media, on April 24 President Obama expressed the hope that the U.S. could, together with China, increase the pressure on North Korea; he has criticized North Korea, yet he continues to act provocatively.

On April 23, North Korea launched its Polaris-1 submarine-launched ballistic missile, and although North Korea declared the launch a “great success,” it only managed 30 km – a distance far shorter than the minimum distance of 300 km for that missile. This latest submarine-launched ballistic missile test has caused considerable shock. Hydrogen bombs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles: these “successful experiments” demonstrate the progress North Korea is making toward strategic attacks.

Almost a day later, in a statement published in the U.S. Associated Press, the North Korean foreign minister, Ri Su Yong, stated that if the U.S. and South Korea were to stop their joint military exercises in the Korean Peninsula, then North Korea would be willing to stop its nuclear testing.

Although this is not the first time North Korea has made such a statement, this is the first time that South Korea has rejected its proposal as “preposterous.” Many people believe, however, that this represents North Korea’s loose position, and that it would be better to just declare nuclear war with America rather than always saying it wants to “erase Seoul from the map.”


North Korea is clearly using dual tactics to pressure the U.S. and South Korea, but having nuclear weapons after the cease-fire throws the whole situation on the peninsula into deadlock. The impasse between North Korea and the U.S. and South Korea is a chicken-and-egg situation – it is a vicious circle that is rapidly escalating – the real danger here is a step-by-step approach. There is currently a serious lack of grip on the situation to prevent it worsening; some of these fierce threats and provocations could become real. If the parties involved do not wish the worst to happen, then they should not squander every possible way to rebuild stability, and should avoid adding further pressure onto the situation as much as possible.

Pyongyang has always put unbearable pressure on the U.S.-South Korean alliance; trying to force North Korea to surrender or concede is probably unrealistic. The fourth nuclear test incurred American and South Korean sanctions on an unprecedented scale. It hardly seems probable that the U.S. and South Korea will come to “kneel” if it performs a fifth test. In case the United Nations Security Council discusses yet stricter sanctions on North Korea, it will be very difficult for China to be lenient, and Pyongyang should be very clear about this.

However, from the other point of view, the U.S. and South Korea pushing for sanctions and brandishing their big stick of military exercises has already made North Korea become exceedingly introverted. If they don’t show their hand, how many cards are there left to play? Obama has once again called on China to increase pressure on North Korea, and looking at the attitude of the U.S. and South Korea toward North Korea, they want China and North Korea to end up hating each other, too. That would be the U.S. and South Korea outsourcing the North Korean nuclear problem to China; this is the difficult problem caused by the U.S.’s policy toward North Korea. Chinese sanctions against North Korea will only be directed against its nuclear development capabilities; China will not participate in stifling the entire country and its regime – on this point the U.S. and South Korea should be very clear.


The Chinese people are concerned about trouble on the Korean peninsula, and we are watching as the situation develops into one without much room for movement, yet we are powerless to do anything; this makes us regretful and anxious. This is a healthy state of mind for a responsible super power. Should the situation become out of control, China will certainly not be among those first unlucky countries. If the U.S., South Korea and North Korea continue to be unshakable in their positions, first, we cannot pretend to have a solution, and second, we cannot take the initiative and effectively take responsibility for whichever side is ultimately responsible. China is patiently trying to facilitate mediation; this is not at all because our tolerance of the worsening situation is lower than that of other countries, but because tension in the peninsula will be harmful to Chinese national interests, due to American and South Korean threats to deploy guided missiles, for example. But no one must underestimate China’s ability and determination to oppose something. All countries, therefore, should avoid being selfish from the beginning, and should consider equally the interests of the other parties involved. If not, a heavy price will be paid for continual ferocity aimed at damaging other parties’ interests.

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