China’s North Korean Liability

How Washington Can Get Beijing to Rein In Pyongyang

U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend the bilateral meeting at the G20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 8, 2017. Carlos Barria / Reuters

On July 8, at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, U.S. President Donald Trump held a cordial press conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping where they discussed how they would address the growing threat of North Korea. Just days before, on July 4, as many Americans were observing Independence Day, North Korea announced that it had successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching Alaska. This was likely on Trump’s mind at the summit when he told this Chinese counterpart that he believed the two of them would “come to a successful conclusion” in reining in Pyongyang. The key challenge, of course, is how they will get there.

For over two and a half decades, international efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions have been in vain. Pyongyang has repeatedly and blatantly violated its multiple commitments to denuclearize and shows no willingness to fulfill its promises to do so. Make no mistake: a North Korea with nuclear weapons is not a problem just for the United States and China but a collective one. Former U.S. President Barack Obama’s policy of “strategic patience” failed. Now, as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has made it abundantly clear, particularly during his visit to Beijing in March, the Trump administration hopes to change the U.S. approach to North Korea. But as much as Washington has failed to rein in North Korea, so has China. Beijing must face the reality that the Kim family’s nuclear and missile programs are opposed to Chinese interests and a threat to regional stability. As momentum once again builds in Beijing to reassess its relationship with North Korea, it is time for China to make a significant shift in its policy, once and for all.


China-North Korean relations have been slowly souring since the end of the Cold War. North Korea ceased being China’s ally long ago when Beijing decided, against Pyongyang’s objections, to normalize its ties with Seoul in 1992. A recent

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