The Skeptics

Time for a Better U.S.-China Grand Bargain on North Korea

Economic benefits, as proposed by the president, are useful, but the DPRK plays an important political and security role in Chinese government calculations. Indeed, traditionally bilateral relations were managed by the Chinese Communist Party, not the Foreign Ministry. Moreover, the People’s Liberation Army has an outsize interest in the North’s survival, and resists proposals to abandon North Korea, now often promoted by academics and the public through social media. Washington needs to address the full range of North Korean issues as they affect China.

President Trump’s attempt to scare the PRC and DPRK is more likely to frighten the South Korean people, who would suffer the most in any conflict. Nevertheless, he has gotten Beijing’s attention. But China’s leadership isn’t likely to sacrifice core security interests for better trade terms alone.

President Xi Jinping and company might be willing to act if the United States agrees to deal with the PRC’s security as well as economic concerns. Even with Beijing’s aid, the United States might not be able to bring the isolated yet determined communist state to heel. But the possibility of success is a good enough reason to give negotiation a try. It is imperative to preserve peace on the peninsula.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World and co-author of The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with South and North Korea.

Image: North Korean flags in Pyongyang. Flickr/Creative Commons/(stephan)