China Is Trying to Bribe North Korea into Good Behavior. Here Is What That Means for America.

U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping attend a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing

Understanding this relationship has important implications on how the United States can effectively deter North Korea.

This view of Sino–North Korean relations suggests a new U.S. policy approach. Pushing for more UN sanctions, for example, would likely be fruitless and could even backfire. It’s no secret that UN sanctions on North Korea have been poorly implemented, especially by China. But passing any new UN resolution requires China to sign on—often reluctantly—which enrages the Kim regime even more. China would likely continue to poorly implement UN sanctions and even ramp up trade with North Korea to compensate for them, making the crisis even worse.

What can work is to align the interests of the United States and China on North Korea trade. Secondary sanctions on China—punishing Chinese companies that violate existing UN sanctions—would make China value North Korea trade less. The Trump administration is starting to do that. But even more fruitful would be a “secondary inducement:” improving U.S.-China trade relations if China accepts the risk of being tough on North Korea. This kind of conditionality is particularly effective because lucrative trade ties with the United States are second to none in China’s foreign economic relations.

Making deals on North Korea and trade is inevitably the top priority for Trump and Xi in Beijing. Success lies in grasping the true essence of Sino–North Korea relations.

Weifeng Zhong is a research fellow in economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Image: Reuters

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