Trump’s hard-line stance against Pyongyang takes shape
After Pyongyang announced Sunday it tested a new high-thrust engine using its own technology, President Donald Trump, while on Air Force One returning to Washington from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, told reporters that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was “acting very, very badly.”
The North’s state-run media reported that Kim observed the test at the Sohae Space Center in Tongchang-ri, North Pyongan Province, on Saturday, which would have been as Tillerson was in Beijing to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
The Trump administration has taken a more aggressive stance toward Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile program, putting all options on the table, leaving room for the possible deployment of nuclear weapons to South Korea and a preemptive strike. But for now, the focus appears to be on pressuring China to resolve the North Korea issue. On Friday, Trump tweeted: “North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!”
As Tillerson, a former CEO of Exxon Mobil, completed his five-day trip to Japan, South Korea and China on Sunday, three aspects of the Trump administration’s policy on North Korea are taking shape.
H. R. McMaster, Trump’s new national security adviser, said in his meeting at the White House last Wednesday with Kim Kwan-jin, South Korea’s national security adviser, that there would be no dialogue without the denuclearization of Pyongyang, according to a government official here Monday.
This indicates the Trump administration has rejected Beijing’s proposal to call for a simultaneous halt of North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations along with the United States and South Korea’s annual joint military drills. North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Ri Kil-song also is said to have rejected such a proposal from China, according to the government source.
“We don’t want to get back into the six-party talks,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the following day in an interview with CNN, referring to the long-stalled negotiations to denuclearize Pyongyang that involves the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
“We’re not willing to do that. Been there, done that,” she continued, adding other countries, specifically China and Russia, need to “step up and show us that they are as concerned with North Korea as we are.”
She also said all options were open to pressure the North.
In contrast, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, during his joint press conference with Tillerson Saturday in Beijing, emphasized that over the years, “Upon the request of the U.S. side, China has worked to facilitate and secure the establishment of the three-party talks, which was expanded to become the six-party talks later on.”
He went on to recognize the halt of the six-party talks, adding that the “situation on the peninsula has arrived at a new crossroads.”
Wang continued, “We could either let the situation continue to escalate and aggravate, which will finally lead to confronting conflicts, or we could continue to strictly implement the Security Council resolutions.”
In a joint press conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se in Seoul on Friday, Tillerson called to “use a number of steps with an ever greater number of actions ahead of us that involve sanctions, which the United Nations Security Council has already approved, including China.”
He continued, “We are also calling upon China to fully implement those sanctions, as well, in compliance with the UN Security Council resolution that it voted for.”
Tillerson added that the pathway to security and economic development “can only be achieved by denuclearizing, giving up their weapons of mass destruction,” and that “only then will we be prepared to engage with them in talks.”
“The key to Trump administration’s preliminary North Korea approach is to pressure China more aggressively in order to enable to induce North Korea to give up its nuclear program,” a government official told the JoongAng Ilbo on Monday. “There was some regret that this card was not put into fullest play during the Barack Obama administration because it was convincing China to ratify the [UN] climate change agreement.” Washington may assume the zero-tolerance stance it took with the Dandong-based Hongxiang Group last September, which was accused of making illegal trade deals with North Korea.
South Korea is awaiting a presidential election in May, and an opposition victory could shift North Korea policy in the direction of inter-Korean dialogue.
“Tillerson’s visit shows that the United States’ position on North Korea is not completely decided upon,” said former diplomat Wie Sung-rak, a guest professor at Seoul National University. “The current [Korean] administration needs to leave room for the next administration to make decisions instead of pushing a hard line with the Trump administration.”
BY CHA SE-HYEON, KIM HYUN-KI AND SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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