Trump tweets on N Korea nukes baffle
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.”
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’.