Trump tweets on N Korea nukes baf­fle

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

PRES­I­DENT-ELECT Don­ald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un have been trad­ing threats this week, while China poses as the ma­ture, rea­son­able kid on the block.

Kim kicked things off in a New Year’s ad­dress on Sunday by say­ing his coun­try was close to test-launching an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic missile (ICBM), which if suc­cess­ful, could ul­ti­mately put a nu­clear war­head within range of parts of the US.

Trump, who had once sug­gested invit­ing Kim over for a ham­burger to con­vince him to give up his nu­clear weapons pro­gramme, took to his usual medium to re­spond: “North Korea just stated that it is in the fi­nal stages of de­vel­op­ing a nu­clear weapon ca­pa­ble of reach­ing parts of the US. It won’t hap­pen!”

But how, ex­perts asked, did the US pres­i­dent-elect aim to stop it hap­pen­ing?

The head of the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion of­fered one in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

Strobe Tal­bott tweeted: “Has our next com­man­der-in-chief is­sued, 18 days be­fore his Inau­gra­tion, a pledge that the US will wage pre-emptive war against the DPRK?”

South Korea, not want­ing per­haps to con­tem­plate that pos­si­bil­ity of rock­ets rain­ing down on the Korean penin­sula, took a dif­fer­ent view.

Its For­eign Min­istry said Trump in his tweet had is­sued a “clear warn­ing” to North Korea that showed his aware­ness of the ur­gency of the threat – “and will not wa­ver from a pol­icy of im­pos­ing sanc­tions”.

“Be­cause of our ac­tive outreach, Pres­i­dent-elect Trump and US of­fi­cials are clearly aware of the grav­ity and ur­gency of the North Korean nu­clear threat,” min­istry spokesman Cho June-hyuck told a brief­ing.

“They are main­tain­ing an un­wa­ver­ing stance on the need for sanc­tions on North Korea and for close co-op­er­a­tion be­tween South Korea and the US.”

This also raises the is­sue of how much in­ter­pre­ta­tion should be re­quired for the tweets of what will soon be the most pow­er­ful man in the world.

Euan Gra­ham, di­rec­tor of the in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity pro­gramme at the Lowy In­sti­tute in Syd­ney, said the world was “on the slip­pery slope of try­ing to in­ter­pret one man’s not par­tic­u­larly co­her­ent tweets”, but added that the ex­change had in­creased the chances that North Korea could be “the first cri­sis out of the box” in the Trump pres­i­dency, at least in Asia.

Cer­tainly, Trump does ap­pear to be con­cerned about the is­sue.

Cit­ing a se­nior US in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial, Reuters re­ported that Trump’s first, and at that time only, re­quest for a spe­cial clas­si­fied in­tel­li­gence brief­ing was for one on North Korea and its nu­clear weapons pro­gramme. Obama also re­port­edly made clear his con­cerns over the is­sue at his han­dover con­ver­sa­tion with Trump.

But what is Trump go­ing to do? His next tweet of­fered a clue. Get China to do more: “China has been tak­ing out mas­sive amounts of money & wealth from the US in to­tally one-sided trade, but won’t help with North Korea. Nice!”

Those com­ments did not go down par­tic­u­larly well in Bei­jing, which ar­gued it had been long push­ing for the de-nu­cle­ari­sa­tion of the Korean penin­sula, and cast it­self as the voice of rea­son and mod­er­a­tion.

“China’s ef­forts in this re­gard are per­fectly ob­vi­ous,” For­eign Min­istry spokesman Geng Shuang told a reg­u­lar news con­fer­ence.

“As a per­ma­nent mem­ber of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil we have proac­tively par­tic­i­pated in rel­e­vant dis­cus­sions on the North Korean nu­clear is­sue and have jointly passed sev­eral res­o­lu­tions with other par­ties.

“This shows China’s re­spon­si­ble at­ti­tude.”

China’s na­tion­al­ist Global Times news­pa­per took the ar­gu­ment a stage fur­ther, say­ing that Trump was “pan­der­ing to ir­re­spon­si­ble at­ti­tudes” and “stok­ing the anx­i­eties of some Amer­i­cans” in his ac­cu­sa­tions against their coun­try.

Kim has put North Korea’s nu­clear weapons pol­icy at the cen­tre of his coun­try’s na­tional and se­cu­rity strat­egy. China would like Py­ongyang to aban­don the pro­gramme, but is un­will­ing to do any­thing that might desta­bilise the regime, West­ern ex­perts say.

Frus­tra­tion with China over the is­sue is some­thing Trump shares with all of his im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sors, Gra­ham said, but the pres­i­dent-elect’s gen­er­ally hard line to­wards Bei­jing would only make it “dig in its heels” more firmly.

Mean­while, Trump’s brash style has been some­thing of a pro­pa­ganda gift for Bei­jing.

“There’s a funny sort of in­ver­sion game go­ing on there,” Gra­ham said. “China is try­ing to pos­ture as the global stake­holder and the re­li­able party for re­gional peace and global gov­er­nance, whereas the United States is, in China’s eyes, reel­ing around like a punch-drunk heavy­weight.”

PIC­TURE: AP

NEW YEAR MES­SAGE: MSouth Kore­ans watch a TV news pro­gramme show­ing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s speech, at the Seoul Rail­way Sta­tion in Seoul, South Korea. US Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump tweeted yes­ter­day, that North Korea won’t de­velop a nu­clear weapon ca­pa­ble of reach­ing parts of the US, but it’s pos­si­ble it al­ready has. The let­ters on the screen read ‘New Year for Re­uni­fi­ca­tion’.

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