How the U.S. Can Win Over China and Silence North Korea

February 17, 2017 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Skeptics Tags: North KoreaChinaDefenseDiplomacyU.S.-China Relations

How the U.S. Can Win Over China and Silence North Korea

Washington needs to start making major concessions (before it's too late).


At a minimum, U.S. leaders would need to provide a written guarantee, not just vague verbal promises, that it would not engage in similar actions in a united Korea. That might be sufficient to induce Beijing to incur the risks of getting tough with Pyongyang, but if Washington sought to make a really appealing offer, it would conclude an agreement with China that the United States would withdraw all of its forces from Korea, including the southern part of the country, by a specific date. Since the reason for the bilateral alliance is the existence of the North Korean threat, the removal of that threat would eliminate the rationale for the alliance—much less for a continuing U.S. military presence. And even if a North Korean state survived in a tamer, more benign incarnation, Seoul has more than sufficient capabilities on its own to deter such a neighbor.

Of course, a U.S. decision to make any of the concessions listed above would be enormously controversial. But Washington’s efforts to prevent Pyongyang from building nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles have failed spectacularly. Continuing to pursue such a sterile policy is pointless. The United States and its East Asian allies face a stark choice. They either will have to learn to live with a nuclear-armed North Korea that eventually will possess an ability to strike the American homeland, or Washington will have to entice the one country that might be able to alleviate or eliminate the North Korean threat to finally take meaningful action. But inducing Beijing to accept the risks entailed in a highly coercive policy will require major incentives. If U.S. leaders are not willing to make the necessary sacrifices, they need to stop whining about Chinese inaction.


Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at the National Interest, is the author of ten books on international affairs, including (with Doug Bandow) The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea (Palgrave Macmillan).

Image: Chinese Navy destroyer Qingdao at the pier in Pearl Harbor. Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy