It is highly likely that Tillerson said what he and the Trump administration believe must be said to keep China and Russia ostensibly on board the denuclearization campaign. Both care even less about the plight of the North Korean people than they do about the threat from the nuclear-armed Kim regime. Moreover, given China’s own inhumane treatment of Christians, Falun Gong, Tibetans, Uighurs, women and political dissenters, it certainly has no interest in elevating the human-rights issue. The two Communist/neo/former Communist giants, with their own serious governing legitimacy issues, will surely seek to pit denuclearization and human-rights objectives against each other, further intensifying the moral and practical complications for the West.
As Washington struggles to reconcile its twin objectives for North Korea, it should do what it can to mobilize world public opinion in urging at least the rehumanization of the North Korean people even without immediate regime change
President Trump may have permanently changed the China-North Korea dynamic with his tough words and equally strong actions this week. Time, which has not been on the West’s side up to now, will tell.
Joseph Bosco is a national-security consultant. He served as the China country director in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He retired in 2010.