Late last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was on a circuit of Japan, South Korea, and China to try to shore up alliances with neglected allies and achieve a regional consensus that North Korea had to be restrained. Tillerson branded North Korea as an imminent threat and made it clear that the Obama policy of appeasing North Korea in an attempt to wean it away from its nuclear ambitions was a failure.
Now the administration has let it be known that it is about to slap North Korea with a new round of sanctions:
The Trump administration is considering sweeping sanctions aimed at cutting North Korea off from the global financial system as part of a broad review of measures to counter Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile threat, a senior U.S. official said on Monday.
The sanctions would be part of a multi-pronged approach of increased economic and diplomatic pressure – especially on Chinese banks and firms that do the most business with North Korea – plus beefed-up defenses by the United States and its South Korean and Japanese allies, according to the administration official familiar with the deliberations.
The policy recommendations being assembled by President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, are expected to reach the president’s desk within weeks, possibly before a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in early April, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. North Korea is expected to top the agenda at that meeting.
The administration source said U.S. officials, including Tillerson, had privately warned China about broader “secondary sanctions” that would target banks and other companies that do business with North Korea, most of which are Chinese.
This will undoubtedly be at the top of the agenda when Trump and Tillerson meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on April 6 in the “Southern White House.”
The only way sanctions against North Korea are going to work is by targeting the Chinese companies and banks that openly, and with government approval, flout UN sanctions. Unless and until China has a vested interest in curbing North Korea they will continue to be used by the Chinese to keep the region in turmoil.
Even with Chinese cooperation, the situation remains on the precipice of war. Kim is riding a tiger and by all accounts (grain of salt, here) is facing challenges to his leadership. His armed forces and his economy are crap so it isn’t like he’s an actual conventional threat to anyone beyond the occasional bombing, poisoning or cross-border escapade. If he thinks he’s going down, he may decide to go out in a blaze of thermonuclear Götterdämmerung. For that matter, he may wake up one day and decide to do that anyway just because he can.