Time the World Asked China to Rein Kim In

The Economic Times - - Breaking Ideas -

It is time to call China’s bluff on North Korea. Bei­jing has been re­mark­ably quiet as US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and North Korea’s pre­mier Kim Jong-un have ex­changed apoc­a­lyp­tic threats. In­stead of us­ing its con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence with Py­ongyang to de-es­ca­late the sit­u­a­tion to pre­vent a mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion, Bei­jing has di­rected its ire at Ja­pan and South Korea, both Amer­i­can al­lies. A war be­tween the US and North Korea would be dis­as­trous for the re­gion. Bei­jing needs to get off the bench. Its sup­port for the re­cent UN res­o­lu­tion on sanc­tions against North Korea is not enough. North Korea is, for all prac­ti­cal pur­poses, China’s client state. The tougher UN sanc­tions and loss of trade with coun­tries like In­dia will in­crease Py­ongyang’s de­pen­dence on Bei­jing. While a vol­u­ble North Korea with its threats of nu­clear-en­abled mis­siles gives China strate­gic lever­age, as the only re­strain­ing in­flu­ence on Kim, out­right war would harm China, too. Bei­jing needs to ac­cept that the threat of mil­i­tary strikes is now a cred­i­ble one, and tell Py­ongyang to pipe down. That would open up the pos­si­bil­ity of a cre­ative diplo­matic so­lu­tion. Pos­ing as a po­ten­tial threat gets Py­ongyang and its pa­tron bar­gain­ing power, but to turn an ac­tual threat is to get stomped on. Amil­i­tary face-off will not be lim­ited to the US and North Korea. His­tory has demon­strated that China will not sit out a war in the Korean peninsula, and US al­lies South Korea and Ja­pan will bear the brunt. With Aus­tralia’s Mal­colm Turn­bull pledg­ing sup­port to the US, the im­pli­ca­tions for the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion are im­mense. A diplo­matic so­lu­tion that puts a check on North Korea’s weapons pro­gramme works to In­dia’s ben­e­fit as well, given Py­ongyang’s readi­ness to pass parcels with ra­dioac­tive mark­ings from Bei­jing to Islamabad.

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