Mil­i­tary op­tion on ta­ble for N Korea

US pa­tience with Py­ongyang runs out Tiller­son re­jects ne­go­ti­ated freeze of nu­clear arms

Financial Times Middle East - - Front Page - SONG JUNG-A — SEOUL

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is no longer will­ing to ex­er­cise “strate­gic pa­tience” with North Korea and is con­sid­er­ing mil­i­tary op­tions in re­sponse to a se­ries of provo­ca­tions by Py­ongyang, the US sec­re­tary of state has said.

Rex Tiller­son’s dec­la­ra­tion in Seoul af­ter a visit to the demil­i­tarised zone be­tween the two Koreas marked a break from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­icy of at­tempt­ing to con­tain Py­ongyang’s bel­liger­ence through a com­bi­na­tion of iso­la­tion, sanc­tions and stepped-up mil­i­tary as­sis­tance to re­gional al­lies.

“Let me be clear: the pol­icy of strate­gic pa­tience has ended,” Mr Tiller­son said. “We are ex­plor­ing a new range of se­cu­rity and diplo­matic mea­sures. All op­tions are on the ta­ble.”

North Korea has emerged as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s first for­eign pol­icy cri­sis af­ter leader Kim Jong Un test fired mid-range mis­siles into the Sea of Japan last month and his half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, was mur­dered at Kuala Lumpu­rair­port.

Even be­fore Mr Trump took of­fice, US of­fi­cials said, he was warned by his pre­de­ces­sor Barack Obama that Mr Kim’s in­creas­ing volatil­ity would pose an early test to the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The US has has­tened de­ploy­ment of an anti-mis­sile shield to South Korea in re­sponse to Py­ongyang’ s ac­tions, a move that has raised ten­sion with Bei­jing, where Mr Tillers on is due to visit to­day.

Mr Tiller­son said Wash­ing­ton was de­vel­op­ing a “com­pre­hen­sive set of ca­pa­bil­i­ties” to deal with North Korea, declar­ing that talks over decades to per­suade Py­ongyang to give up its nu­clear am­bi­tions had failed.

He ruled out a ne­go­ti­ated freeze of Py­ongyang’s nu­clear pro­grammes, say­ing con­di­tions were not ripe to re­sume talks. In­stead, he called for tougher sanc­tions, say­ing cur­rent UN curbs had not yet reached the“max­i­mum level ”.

Any ac­tion threat­en­ing South Korea and the 28,500 US troops there would be met with “an ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse”, Mr Tiller­son added. “If they el­e­vate the threat of their weapons pro­gramme to a level that we be­lieve re­quires ac­tion, that op­tion is on the ta­ble .”

China has warned that Wash­ing­ton and Py­ongyang are on a col­li­sion course that could lead to war, and has re­tal­i­ated eco­nom­i­cally against South Korea for agree­ing to de­ploy the US mis­sile shield.

“We be­lieve these ac­tions are un­nec­es­sary and trou­bling,” Mr Tiller­son said, call­ing for tougher Chi­nese ac­tion against Py­ongyang.

In re­cent months the re­ac­tions of Chi­nese lead­ers to Don­ald Trump have veered from dis­be­lief at the US pres­i­dent’s most in­flam­ma­tory threats to re­lief that he has yet to fol­low through on any of them, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials and diplo­mats in Bei­jing.

But as China’s Com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment pre­pares for the first visit to Bei­jing by a mem­ber of Mr Trump’s cab­i­net — Rex Tiller­son, sec­re­tary of state — re­lief has given way to are signed ac­cep­tance that Sin o-US re­la­tions are info ra rocky ride. China will con­sider it­self for­tu­nate if it can avoid an all-out trade war with Wash­ing­ton.

“Trump likes to make threats, so trade fric­tion is in­evitable,” said Zhu Min, a Chi­nese econ­o­mist and for­mer deputy man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund. “But he also needs to in­crease in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment to boost the US econ­omy, and China is a po­ten­tial part­ner .”

As they at­tempt to nav­i­gate their dif­fer­ences over trade, the lead­ers of the world’s two largest economies will also have to man­age a multi-pronged cri­sis on the Korean penin­sula, in­clud­ing Py­ongyang’s con­tin­ued pur­suit of nu­clear-armed mis­siles and Bei­jing’s op­po­si­tion to the de­ploy­ment of a US anti-mis­sile sys­tem in South Korea. The two is­sues are ex­pected to dom­i­nate Mr Tiller­son’s week­end meet­ings with his Chi­nese coun­ter­part as well as Pres­i­dent Xi J in ping and Pre­mier LiKe qi ang.

They will also be in­ter­ested in hear­ing from Mr Tiller­son what he meant when he said dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings that China should be de­nied ac­cess to its is­land for­ti­fi­ca­tions in the South China Sea. “The im­por­tant thing is not to cross red lines, for in­stance Tiller­son talk­ing about ‘deny­ing China ac­cess’,” said Vic­tor Gao,a for­mer Chi­nese diplo­mat.“You can’ t do it, so don’ t say it .”

While Chi­nese of­fi­cials pub­licly kept their cool af­ter the con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing com­ments, and Mr Trump’s ear­lier tweets that he might aban­don the “One China” pol­icy by re­new­ing of­fi­cial con­tacts with Tai­wan, in pri­vate they were wor­ried. Chen Fengy­ing, for­mer head of a Chi­nese think-tank, summed up Bei­jing’s dis­be­lief when she said in Jan­uary that “the world is not pre­pared to deal with a leader who tweets com­ments in the mid­dle of the night that can shock fi­nan­cial mar­kets and have a big im­pact on im­por­tant diplo­matic re­la­tion­ships ”.

Chi­nese of­fi­cials were equally mys­ti­fied by the ease with which Mr Trump, hav­ing threat­ened to end the One China pol­icy, reaf­firmed it dur­ing a Fe­bru­ary phone call with Mr Xi. Michael Green, a for­mer Asia ad­viser to Ge­orge W Bush, said that on ev­ery­thing from Tai­wan to trade, “the Chi­nese have been wait­ing for the other shoe to drop, but it hasn’ t ”.

As they brace for the worst, they have also been try­ing to guess who in Mr Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion will have the most in­flu­ence on its evolv­ing China pol­icy, from son-in-law and ad­viser Jared Kushn er to Mike Pence,v ice-pres­i­dent.

One western diplo­mat said he was cor­nered at an event re­cently by a pre­vi­ously elu­sive Chi­nese coun­ter­part who asked: “How do you deal with Trump? Should we be talk­ing to Pence?” China’s am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton, Cui Tiankai, has been court­ing Mr Kush­ner and his wife, Ivanka Trump.

In Bei­jing, Mr Tiller­son is viewed as a rel­a­tively moder­ate voice in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion who wants to main­tain sta­ble re­la­tions with China. But Chi­nese of­fi­cials have also noted that his choice of deputy was ve­toed by the White House, while his depart­ment’s fund­ing was slashed in Mr Trump’s first pro­posed bud­get. His visit to Bei­jing is ex­pected to be more like that of a se­cret en­voy than a sec­re­tary of state, with no sched­uled press con­fer­ences.

By con­trast James Mat­tis, the de­fence sec­re­tary whose depart­ment will get a big boost from the bud­get, has vis­ited Japan, South Korea and Ger­many, re­as­sur­ing US al­lies that the ad­min­is­tra­tion will stand by them, de­spite Mr Trump’s ear­lier sugges­tions to the con­trary.

“Tiller­son is diplo­matic and tact­ful but not a powerful mem­ber of Trump’s team ,” said S hi Y in hong, a for­eign pol­icy ex­pert at Ren­min Univer­sity in Bei­jing.

Chi­nese of­fi­cials have also reg­is­tered the hawk­ish com­ments this week by Mr Trump’s nom­i­nee for US trade rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Robert Lighthizer, who ar­gued that the World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion can­not “deal ef­fec­tively [with] a coun­try like China and their in­dus­trial pol­icy”. Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Xin­ning Liu, Lucy Hornby and Demetri Sev­astop­ulo Ed­i­to­rial Com­ment page 6

Rex Tiller­son de­clared: ‘We are ex­plor­ing a new range of se­cu­rity and diplo­matic mea­sures’

— Reuters

In the frame: Rex Tiller­son, on South Korea’s bor­der yes­ter­day, is pho­tographed by a North Korean sol­dier

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