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On North Korea, we must make China accommodate our interests
As we come barreling down to the end of the road on how we confront North Korea, there can be no denying that this situation is very different from other nuclear weapons threats. In fact, the real comparison is to what we face with Iran and the position President Obama put us in with that hostile country. But North Korea is essentially not like any other nation. There are no real economic pressure points with North Korea to use as leverage. The Soviets and the Chinese wanted some kind of integration into the global marketplace; even Iran does.
But the Kim regime has no interest or ability to benefit from global commerce. It is a hermit regime almost completely closed off from other states intentionally for the sake of the regime. It is mostly a criminal thug operation that trades in weapons of mass destruction, aids terrorists, and kidnaps people.
So traditional deterrence and containment have little chance to succeed. North Korea under Kim has no other reason to exist except to be an existential threat to the world with its nuclear weapons. Kim Jong-un is trapped within a system of China's and his own making with the only real thing that he has to lose are his nuclear weapons, which is the only reason for his existence.
China nurtured the regime as it is, and China maintains it. It sold or facilitated the technology and science needed to acquire the capability, and let's be honest: China delighted in the threat a nuclear North Korea posed to the United States, South Korea and Japan, the later two nations who China hates and fears.
And yet we cannot excuse our own role in allowing North Korea to become what it has become. The three previous administrations naively thought we could talk the North Korean regime out of its pursuit of nuclear weapons, which, to repeat, is the main reason for existence. China has also realized that it naively thought it could control its Frankenstein pit-bull, but it now is realizing it has to confront hard decisions.
Now we must figure out how our interests and China's interests can be realigned in regards to North Korea. And lest China think that somehow there are joint interests to be accommodated, that is not the case.
The United States and its allies face an existential threat from a nuclear weapons-armed Kim regime. He threatens and tests weapons and launches missiles provocatively; it's what he does to maintain his existence. The United States and its allies in the region have no wriggle room where this is concerned. North Korea, for now anyway, does not threaten China, but it does threaten us. The United States and our allies have an uncompromising interest in ending the threat.
China perceives its interest to be the maintenance of the status quo: that the United States and its allies are threatened. That is, China enjoys the peril we face because China wants us all weak, intimidated and not pursuing what China considers to be our hegemony in East Asia.
So Chinese and U.S. interests are not aligned. It is the job of the Trump administration to make China appreciate that it must accommodate our interests; that it must seek a new interest where we are concerned, namely stability and the end to the North Korean threat to us. China does not need a North Korea intimidating the United States and our allies even if it wants it; the United States and its allies cannot tolerate the North Korean threat. Therefore, China has to accommodate the U.S. and its allies where North Korea is concerned.
We must confront China with its dirty little secret: it has enjoyed the threat North Korea poses to us. And now we must tell China that it must do what is necessary to control North Korea, including regime change if necessary, which is not easy to do, and will be risky. If it will not do this of its own volition and bring its pit-bull to heel, we have two options.
The first is for the United States, for really the first time, lean on China economically: if they will not immediately deal with North Korea, we will cut off Chinese banks, we will cut off trade, we will cut off real estate investments in the United States, and urge others to do the same. We will make it clear that if you support North Korea's nuclear dictatorship, you will have zero business with the United States and its allies.
If China is spurred to action it then must cut off financial aid to North Korea; stop backdooring the scientists and technology needed to continue its nuclear program; and cut off its oil imports to North Korea. With over 90 percent of North Korea's oil imports coming from China, the entire country, but more importantly the military and the nuclear program, would come to a grinding halt in months and put Kim Jong-un directly in the crosshairs of his generals.
If, however, China will not respond to economic pressure, then there is nothing left but military options. The one to be avoided, that we must hope does not happen, is a kinetic one in which there is war and a potential nuclear exchange. But a military option short of open conflict is also possible: the one in which South Korea and Japan become nuclear nations and are supported in that by the United States. China's greatest fear is to be surrounded by enemies that it has fear and loathed for centuries equipped with nuclear weapons.
As Donald Trump now squarely confronts the threat that the three previous administrations handed down to him, he must lay every card on the table in dealing with the North Korean situation. And the world would do well to remember: An American president's most important responsibility is to protect and safeguard the lives of American people.
Ned Ryun is a former presidential writer for George W. Bush and the founder and CEO of American Majority. You can find him on Twitter @nedryun.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.