WH official: U.S. will pressure China to take a "robust" stand against North Korea

Sounds awesome. Now all we need is a reason to think that China will agree.

A White House official tells ABC News that the U.S. is going to spend a great deal of effort trying to get China to take a more “robust” stand against North Korea’s actions.

“We need to send a strong signal to the Chinese that they need to stand up to North Korea,” the official says, adding that Russia’s statement condemning this attack was much stronger than after the North Koreans sank the ROKS Cheonan (PCC-772) in March 2010…

One possibility we may see in the coming days: more joint US-South Korea military exercises, to demonstrate solidarity and support…

One step you may not see that has happened in the past is “rushing into six party talks,” the official said, trying to get North Korea back at the table with other superpowers. “We see that as rewarding bad behavior.”

“We don’t see this as North Korea wanting to go to war,” he concludes, which is probably true — they could have just started shelling Seoul if they wanted to do that — and yet … somehow not reassuring. As for China, if the regional fallout from today’s incident isn’t enough to get them to crack down on the NorKs, I don’t know what we could do to focus their mind further. They’ve worried forever about dealing with the refugee nightmare from North Korea if war breaks out; meanwhile, South Korea and Japan each must be thinking seriously at the moment about developing nuclear weapons as a hedge against North Korean erraticism (and, eventually, Chinese hegemony). If China wants to avert all that, they can act without our prodding. In fact, I wonder if the lesson from this morning is that China has less control over North Korean provocations than we think. If NK’s goal was to get America’s attention, that was already achieved with the news about their new enrichment facility. Unloading on an island full of South Korean civilians seems reckless and gratuitous even by crazy Kim standards. Maybe they’ve now gone fully rogue and even the Chinese aren’t sure what to do.

If I’m wrong about that and China still has leverage over them, then it’s yet another example of U.S. foreign policy being bedeviled by a fanatic proxy of some greater, more rational power. The paradigm example of that is Pakistan helping to prop up the Taliban in Afghanistan, but Iran’s support for Shiite fundie elements in Iraq also qualifies (especially now that Maliki owes his continuing position as PM to Sadr). The NorKs aren’t really a proxy so much as a Chinese client state, but the basic idea is the same — sapping America’s regional influence not through direct confrontation but via a rogue actor who’s dedicated enough to fight us head on. It’d be nice to have a strategy to limit that one of these days.

Here’s Obama telling Barbara Walters tonight that our alliance with South Korea is rock solid. I’m intrigued by the bit in the blockquote above about him not rushing back into six-party talks. I wonder what concession he’ll demand in advance before agreeing to sit down with North Korea again.