America's Efforts to Subdue North Korea Will Fail—Unless China Gets Involved

November 5, 2017 Topic: Security Region: Asia Tags: North KoreaKim Jong-unWarMilitaryNuclearMissile

America's Efforts to Subdue North Korea Will Fail—Unless China Gets Involved

The U.S. strategy of imposing “maximum pressure” and the Chinese strategy of addressing North Korean threat perceptions through engagement are mutually conflicting.


These are only some examples of the differences in views between Washington and Beijing. If they want to achieve deep and long-term cooperation in addressing the North Korea nuclear threat, they need to start substantive engagement to bridge the gap on these basic but critically important issues.

For starters, the United States and China need to devote immediate attention to making an important decision: whether to continue the current competition of risk-taking with North Korea, or instead to pursue a risk-reduction agenda to reduce the likelihood of a nuclear conflict. When Pyongyang and Washington are increasingly threatening each other’s core security interests in the hope that more pressure will force the other party to back down, red lines for employing military forces can be crossed due to misjudgment. Washington and Beijing do not currently see eye to eye on the importance of pursuing risk reduction, which increases the danger of miscalculation between themselves. That variance in perspective also creates the risk of North Korea exploiting their differences and of the practice of brinksmanship ultimately leading to a hot war. The two countries need to quickly come to a common understanding about the urgent need to jointly contain crisis.


Without a joint strategy based on common understandings, the United States and China run a growing risk of combating each other rather than the common threat they both face. Such a dialogue will take time, patience and persistent efforts. But given the lack of easy solutions over the Korean Peninsula, Beijing and Washington have a clear common interest in embarking on that endeavor.

Tong Zhao is a fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy.

Image: People wave with flags before the a meeting of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch