On Friday, we reported that tensions between the North Korean government and officials in Washington had reached an all-time high after Trump tweeted that he would take care of the situation the Eastern region with or without the assistance of China, and North Korean officials responded by declaring that they were prepared to go to war with the United States if Trump continued his aggressive behavior and rhetoric. This was all going on as a U.S. naval carrier group parked itself right off the Korean coast. North Korea had also issued a statement that they were preparing a “big and important” event for the end of last week as they paraded missiles and military equipment through the streets of the nation’s capital to flex their military might. Over the weekend, North Korea attempted to launch a missile but ultimately failed to do so, forcing many to question whether the United States and its allies were behind the failure. Needless to say, the situation in the Korean peninsula is escalating at a rapid pace, and Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to the region yesterday will only serve to increase that tension.
Giving a speech in Seoul yesterday as part of a visit to several Asian nations, Mike Pence warned North Korea to not test “the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region.” He pointed to the Trump administration’s recent attacks on Syria and Afghanistan as evidence that the White House would not hesitate to invoke military force to further its agenda. "Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan." In declaring that the previous administration’s policy of “strategic patience” would be tossed out in favor of a more immediate, hard-line approach, Pence has sent chills down the spines of foreign policy experts who see one of two options on the horizon. Either Trump acts on his tough talk and catalyzes a full-scale war in the region, inevitably bringing China and Iran into the fray, or he backs down. Given what we know about the president’s ego, however, the latter seems but a fantasy.
While the tough talk continues on the surface, there are some developments behind the scenes that could really shake up the situation in North Korea. For one, it appears that China is becoming more amenable to working with the United States to condemn Kim Jong Un for his militaristic, authoritarian regime and taking measures to halt the development of their nuclear program. “There’s a lot of economic and political pressure points that I think China can utilize,” said Sean Spicer at his daily press briefing. “We’ve been very encouraged with the direction in which they’re going.” He drew attention to the fact that China has reduced its coal imports from North Korea as evidence that the Chinese are willing to ally with the U.S. in this anti-North Korea effort. The Chinese government has suggested that they are willing to coordinate talks between the North Koreans and Americans, explaining that this form of diplomacy would be preferable to military action. “As long as it is a talk, China is willing to support it: either it is formal or informal, one-track or dual-track, bilateral, trilateral or quadrilateral.”
On that front, the U.S. has also floated the idea of secondary sanctions, which would slap sanctions on Chinese companies and individuals who do business with North Korea. This would inevitably antagonize Beijing, and thus the Trump administration is waiting for signals from the Chinese government as to what they intend to do next before taking this step.
What do you think of Pence’s comments on North Korea? What about the situation at large?