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Saturday, July 8, 2017

China and Russia differ with US on North Korea policies

As Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow the two issued a joint statement that called for a simultaneous freeze on North Korean nuclear and missile tests but also on military exercises by the U.S. and South Korea.

The joint document was published after the two leaders met on Tuesday in the Russian capital. The two also condemned the latest North Korean missile test as "unacceptable" but urged against "any statements or actions that could lead to an increase in tensions". The joint declaration said: "The two sides propose that the DPRK (North Korea) as a voluntary political decision declares a moratorium on testing nuclear explosive devices and ballistic rocket launches, and the U.S. and South Korea refrain from carrying out large-scale joint exercises. Parallel to this, the opposing sides should start negotiations and affirm general principles of their relations including the non-use of force, rejection of aggression and peaceful co-existence." Putin also said that a comprehensive resolution of the problems of the Korean peninsula were a mutual priority in order to ensure a lasting peace and stability would be achieved in the area.
China had earlier issued a two-track approach to North Korea of sanctions but also moves to ease up tensions, such as suspensions for suspensions, a position the Russians now also support. There appears to be a growing division between Chinese and Russian views on North Korea versus the United States. A recent visit of the new South Korean president Moon Jae-In to the U.S. to meet with Trump showed him as mostly in agreement with the U.S.
The joint statement spoke against the military presence of "non-regional powers" in the area and its buildup under what it called the pretext of countering the North Korean nuclear and missile programs. Both specifically opposed the THAAD anti-missile defense system the U.S. is deploying in South Korea. Both countries see the systems as potentially being directed at them. The document says that the THAAD deployment "seriously damages strategic security interests of regional powers, including Russia and China' and against peace and stability in the region." The South Korean president has also expressed concerns about the system. The two urged the parties in conflict to sit down for talks, and to agree on principles that would include a refusal to use forces and to pledge to make the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons. The statement also said that the North had "sensible concerns" that needed to be respected and that countries had an obligation to produce a "peaceful atmosphere of mutual trust" to help launch the talks.
Actions of the U.S. are drawing China and Russia closer together. The U.S. recently angered China with a large $1.42 billion arms sale to Taiwan. The U.S. also sailed within what China claims are its territorial waters of a Chinese-claimed island in the South China Sea. Finally, the U.S. has recently sanctioned a Chinese bank, a Chinese company, and several individuals as part of putting pressure on North Korea. This has angered China. Xi said that Russia-China relations are the best ever.
Neither North Korea nor the U.S. is likely to agree to the program suggested by China and Russia, even though on the surface it appears to be a sensible way out of the situation. The North Koreans appear to take the view that there own safety will come from developing defenses that even a nation as powerful as the U.S. will not want to challenge. The U.S. on the other hand appears ready to take action before such a situation comes into existence.
North Korea claims it has successfully tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and said that it was capable of hitting anywhere in the world. The Hwasong-14 missile was said to have reached an altitude of 2,802 km and hit its target after flying for 39 minutes according the DPRK state television. Whether the statement is true or not it will provide more ammunition for those in the U.S. demanding stronger action against the North.
President Trump's response was rather dismissive as he tweeted: "North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea.....7:19 PM - 3 Jul 2017". No doubt Kim Jong-Un thinks the tests make North Korea safe — just as Trump's actions, such as a ban on immigration from certain Muslim countries, are alleged to make America safe. While Kim may have an interest in watching U.S. basketball, perhaps he does not share Trump's emphasis upon spending his time playing golf. Trump also tweeted that perhaps China would put a heavy move on North Korea and "end this nonsense once and for all". There is no sign of that.
On Tuesday both Republican and Democratic politicians urged Trump to take a harder line against North Korea. Senator Edward Markey a top Democrat in the East Asia Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said: "Instead of vague Twitter bluster, President Trump should answer North Korea’s dangerous test with a coherent strategy of direct diplomacy with Pyongyang and increased economic sanctions pressure from China. Each additional test will bring North Korea closer to the capability of delivering a nuclear weapon to American cities.” Republicans also demanded that Trump take stronger measures.
Some experts, such as Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress are puzzled by a seeming lack of any concrete settled U.S. policy on North Korea: “There really is a value to communicating resolve and unity with our allies.The Trump administration has blustered at times, and at other times they’ve appeared to take the military option off the table. If they have a strategy, I’ve seen no evidence of it. They’ve been contradictory on nearly every plank of their stated strategy..” It may be that Trump deliberately remains unclear about his policies so that when he acts the opposition is off guard. Trump has said a number of times that the Obama policy of "strategic patience" did not work but it remains unclear exactly what policy is to replace it although in his meeting with the South Korean president he did seem to support some mixture of punishment and perhaps diplomacy along the lines suggested by Moon. However, it is difficult to filter out the reality from Trump's rhetoric! Some actual military action against the North appears increasingly likely unless US or North Korea change their policies.


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