Donald Trump brought up North Korea, and now everyone’s talking about it. The answer to stopping Kim Jong Un and his renegade government’s nuclear weapons program may lie with China, but so far Beijing has been hesitant to act. “China has total control over them [North Korea] and we have total control over China, if we had people who knew what they were doing, which he don’t,” said Donald Trump to CNN host Wolf Blitzer.
As North Korea’s most important trade partner, China has considerable power over banks, food, and fuel in the peninsular nation. But China has been hesitant to take action against North Korea in past years, fearing that an economic collapse would spawn a refugee surge and lead to the formation of a unified Korean nation. North Korea’s hydrogen bomb test on Wednesday, however, will considerably heighten pressure on Beijing to act.
“China has to get involved. And China should solve that problem. And we should put pressure on China to solve the problem,” argues Trump.
China was not impressed by the nuclear test, saying it “firmly opposed” the H-bomb demonstration. “North Korea should stop taking any actions which would worsen the situation on the Korean Peninsula,” says Hua Chunying, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.
Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser, met with China’s US ambassador on Wednesday to discuss the bomb test. China has agreed to support a UN Security Council statement that condemns North Korea’s action and plans to impose new sanctions.
Pyongyang has been relatively quiet during recent years as the Koreans continue working on weapons that could be mounted on long-range missiles aimed at the US. The launch on Wednesday was the country’s first nuclear test since 2013. “We’ve been trying to pretend that this isn’t a problem – as long as things are quiet, it’s nice,” says Joe Wit, founder of the analytic North Korea-focused website 38 North. “But this is a problem and it keeps coming back.”
Wednesday’s test is particularly worrisome because an H-bomb can be hundreds of times stronger than an atomic bomb. Former CIA analyst Bruce Klinger estimates that North Korea has between 10 and 16 nuclear weapons. He believes it is likely that the country already has the ability to fire on neighbors and possibly the United States. In four short years, experts estimate that North Korea could get its hands on nearly 100 similar weapons.
The Obama Administration has not treated North Korea as a priority. Sanctions on the country have increased gradually during Obama’s reign, but the door remains open for negotiations. North Korea, however, has proven uncooperative at best. The isolated northern half of the country has effectively evaded sanctions in the past and is not as susceptible to financial restrictions as major economies like Iran.
Incentives have proven ineffective as well. The White House’s attempt to pursue disarmament talks with North Korea in 2012 was met only with a defiant rocket launch by Kim’s government. And putting US forces in North Korea is out of the question as it could damage our allies in the southern half of the peninsula and cause an outbreak of violence in Seoul.
Meanwhile, North Korea claims that it must pursue nuclear weapons development in order to protect itself from the United States. The 28,000 troops currently stationed in South Korea are an uncomfortable reminder of the Korean War, a three-year conflict that ended with no peace treaty.
John Kerry reiterated on Wednesday that America would never accept North Korea as a nuclear state: “Actions such as this latest test only strengthen our resolve,” he said.
Republican lawmakers are busy discussing their options. “The answer to North Korea’s threats is more pressure, not less,” says Ed Royce of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “This rogue regime has no interest in being a responsible state.”