On Monday, the tone of the mainstream narrative on North Korea was somewhat conflicting — though certainly a little brighter.
Even as President Donald Trump was saying the “status quo” in North Korea is “unacceptable” and that the United Nations should impose sanctions on the tiny Asian country, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N, Nikki Haley, said the U.S. is “not trying to pick a fight” with leader Kim Jong-un.
“We are not going to do anything unless he gives us reason to,” she said on NBC, referring to the idea that the U.S. would use a first-strike option against North Korea. Continuing, Haley tied in the other major player in the scenario:
If you see him attack a military base, if you see some sort of intercontinental ballistic missile, then obviously we’re going to do that. But right now we’re saying ‘Don’t test, don’t use nuclear missiles, don’t try and do any more actions,’ and I think he’s understanding that. And China’s helping really put that pressure on him.
Indeed, U.S.-China relations on the issue of North Korea do appear to be a tad less contentious currently, with China seeming a little more willing to acknowledge the country as a threat. According to some analysts, this could actually be a new Chinese strategy.
According to the opening paragraph of a CNBC piece that ran Monday titled “China is sending the US a new message about North Korea”:
Beijing appears to be sending fresh signals about its view on North Korea, in order to convince U.S. President Donald Trump to take less aggressive action against the rogue nuclear state, several political analysts say.
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“One thing we’re seeing is a tactical adjustment on Beijing’s part to Trump,” Delury said. “There’s a kind of game here where Beijing is playing along to a certain extent, almost to call Trump’s bluff, and to get the Americans to recognize they have the key in their hand to unlock the problem.”
Pointing out the reality of what a military conflict in the region would look like, the analyst says the solution to the problem has nothing to do with warships and fighter jets:
The key is not military. When you start to look carefully at the military options, they are horrific, just given the economic vulnerabilities of everyone in this neighborhood. The key the U.S. has is diplomacy.
Director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project, Leon Sigal, seems to agree. Speaking to CNBC, he suggested the economic front should be the main strategic avenue.
“The main leverage we have is that the North Koreans want a new relationship with us because they don’t want to become too dependent on China,” he said.
Speaking in Australia Monday, Vice President Mike Pence also presented a more positive sentiment. Acknowledging increased Chinese efforts to ease tensions, he said a military entanglement is not necessarily a foregone conclusion:
We truly believe that, as our allies in the region and China bring that pressure to bear, there is a chance that we can achieve a historic objective of a nuclear-free Korea peninsula by peaceful means.
Meanwhile, however, Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel just discussed the “urgent security challenge” posed by North Korea on a phone call.
Further, Japanese warships have now joined the carrier fleet steaming its way to the Korean peninsula, and South Korea is in talks with the U.S. military about doing the same.