China: Don't sanction us over North Korea

So much for double secret suspension. The Russo-Chinese plan to have the US and North Korea jointly stand down on military exercises on the Korean peninsula didn’t gain any traction in the Trump administration, as was utterly predictable when the two countries floated the idea yesterday. Instead, Donald Trump issued a warning about “severe” consequences for the regime in Pyongyang after their launch of an ICBM put Hawaii and Alaska in range for an attack, and warned Russia and China not to defend Kim Jong-un:

President Trump warned Thursday that North Korea could face “some pretty severe” consequences after its defiant test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, but Washington also confronted firm opposition from Russia and China over any possible response.

Trump did not specify potential U.S.-directed punishment for North Korea, which on Tuesday launched a missile that experts say had a range capable of reaching Alaska. Yet efforts to find consensus among world powers appeared to hit a wall — sharply limiting Trump’s options. …

In Warsaw, Trump said the United States was considering “some pretty severe things” in response to what he called “very, very bad behavior” from the North, though he did not mention any specific plans.

“Something will have to be done about it,” he said.

Something will have to be done … but what? ABC News noted the significant step forward this latest missile tests represents, and the direct threat it now poses to the US. That assumes that nuclear-weapons development progresses as predicted, but even if it’s not ready now, it will be soon:

This week’s long-range missile test by North Korea marks a distinct, if unsteady, advance in its quest to develop the capability to hit the U.S. mainland, according to two experts.

The distance this missile traveled confirms that North Korea is “no longer just a regional problem. This is a U.S. problem,” ABC News aviation consultant Steve Ganyard, a retired Marine Corps colonel, said.

“This is the first time, if the analysis is correct, that we’re seeing a North Korean weapon that can hit the United States. Not the mainland, but Alaska is very much part of the United States, and this is a very worrying development,” he said on “Good Morning America” today. …

“There’s still a debate whether or not North Korea has been able to make a nuclear weapon small enough to put on the head of the weapon to deliver it, and there’s still a debate whether or not North Korea … has developed re-entry technology,” he said.

In other words, playing out the string on deterrence and diplomacy may have an end date, especially for a regime that wants to keep pushing the boundaries. This is, after all, the same tyrant who used VX nerve agent in the airport of a strategic and economic ally just to bump off his older, ne’er-do-well brother. It’s not a regime that demonstrates rationality on a consistent basis, and which not only wants weapons of mass destruction for itself but to proliferate them all over the world, too.

Right now, the options for non-military intervention all lie in Beijing, which is why Trump issued his barely veiled threat yesterday about trade relations with China. Nikki Haley reiterated the threat yesterday at the UN, demanding that China take a more active role in disarming its client state:

Haley said the United States doesn’t seek conflict — “in fact we seek to avoid it.” But she said the launch of an ICBM “is a clear and sharp military escalation” and the U.S. is prepared to use its “considerable military forces” to defend itself and its allies “if we must.”

“But we prefer not to go in that direction,” she said. “We have other methods of addressing those who threaten us, and of addressing those who supply the threats. We have great capabilities in the area of trade.”

Haley said she spoke at length to President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning about “countries that are allowing, even encouraging trade with North Korea, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

“Such countries would also like to continue their trade arrangements with the United States,” she said. “That’s not going to happen. Our attitude on trade changes when countries do not take international security threats seriously.”

The government in Beijing responded today by insisting it would stick with UN sanctions, but warned against the US applying sanctions against them over North Korea:

China’s vice-finance minister said Beijing would implement all sanctions imposed on North Korea as a result of its missile tests, but warned the U.S. not to use them as an excuse to impose sanctions against China’s financial institutions.

“As a Security Council permanent member, China will of course implement all relevant resolutions,” he said. “But the U.S. should not use their domestic laws as excuses to levy sanctions against Chinese financial institutions.”

They should prepare to be … disappointed. The Associated Press reports that the Trump administration has begun to work on new sanctions to discourage any kind of trade with North Korea. One particular target would be China’s computer sector:

Having lost patience with China, the Trump administration is studying new steps to starve North Korea of cash for its nuclear program, including an option that would infuriate Beijing: sanctions on Chinese companies that help keep the North’s economy afloat.

It’s an approach that’s paid off for the U.S. in the past, especially with Iran, where American economic penalties helped drive Tehran to the nuclear negotiating table. Yet there are significant risks, too, including the possibility of opening a new rift with Beijing that could complicate U.S. diplomatic efforts on other critical issues.

What other critical issues might that be? China had been remarkably unhelpful on Iran, blocking efforts to increase sanctions, which left the Obama administration looking to make a bad deal to get out from under the issue altogether. They haven’t been terribly helpful on North Korea either, even with the sanctions they have put in place. Clearly they see the Kim regime as a strategic asset in the region, and that’s because the US hasn’t made it costly enough for Beijing yet. Economic sanctions on its tech sector might do that more safely than, oh, parking nuclear warheads in Japan and South Korea, which might be the next step if China doesn’t yank the leash on Pyongyang. And it certainly beats another bloody war on the Korean peninsula, which is exactly where Kim Jong-un and his band of fanatics will take us if not reined in soon.