Skip to main content

The Future of China & North Korea

April 3, 2017 | Expert Insights

What is President Trump going to do about growing tension in the region?

US President Donald Trump held out the possibility on Sunday of using trade as a lever to secure Chinese cooperation against North Korea and suggested Washington might deal with Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes on its own if need be.

The comments, in an interview published on Sunday by the Financial Times, appeared designed to pressure Chinese President Xi Jinping in the run-up to his visit to Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. China has great influence over North Korea. China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won't. And if they do that will be very good for China, and if they don't it won't be good for anyone," Trump was quoted as saying, according to an edited transcript published by the newspaper.


Grand bargain in which China pressured Pyongyang in return for a guarantee the US would later remove troops from the Korean peninsula, the newspaper quoted.

If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you. It is not clear whether Trump's comments will move China, which has taken steps to increase economic pressure on Pyongyang but has long been unwilling to do anything that may destabilise the North and send millions of refugees across their border.

What's on Kim Jong-un's mind?

In recent months, North Korea has found itself at the centre of international attention. Its policies are once again described as "irrational" or "bizarre", and its hereditary leader Kim Jong-un is presented as an eccentric and irrational creature, fond of killing his relatives and threatening the world with nuclear weapons. But this description is misleading: Kim knows what he is doing.

In January, the country came close to testing a long-range weapon delivery system, also known as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which, as it was implied, will can target the United States. Soon after, North Korea indeed conducted a series of missile launches. Recently tested missiles are not capable of hitting the US, but they indicate serious and remarkably fast technological advancement - so remarkable that most foreign experts believe that Kim was not bluffing when he talked about North Korea's ability to develop ICBMs soon.

Although the option of pre-emptive military strikes on North Korea is not off the table, the review prioritises less-risky steps and "de-emphasises direct military action," the official added, saying it was not immediately known if the National Security Council recommendations had made their way to Trump.


According to the estimates it will take five years or so. Any missile they could put into service by the end of 2020 will be very reliable, but perhaps it doesn't have to be - one or two successes out of six launches against the US would be a political game-changer to say the least.