The Trump Administration is suggesting China will receive a favorable trade deal -- and perhaps other unspecified considerations -- if Beijing helps terminate North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Cooperate to terminate -- that's the gist of the U.S. diplomatic strategy to deal with North Korea's rogue nukes.
During his recent visit to South Korea, Vice-President Mike Pence gave a more expansive but still focused description. "...President Trump," Pence said, "is absolutely committed to marshaling the energy of the world community, in countries in the Asian pacific, to use economic and diplomatic power to isolate North Korea and achieve a goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula."
The coercive diplomatic operation the vice-president sketched relies on sustained cooperation. Pence implicitly appealed to collective interest in ending the threat of nuclear war in East Asia. The U.S. will "marshal" global and regional economic and diplomatic power in order to "isolate" North Korea's rogue regime and achieve "denuclearization."
Note that once North Korea's threat disappears, the entire peninsula will become a "no nukes" zone. That's a goal China ought to share. One month ago, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson mused that if North Korea didn't end its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, why, Japan and South Korea might have to acquire their own nuclear arsenals.
I guarantee that comment jolted Chinese leaders, and a hard jolt was Tillerson's objective. During WW2, Japan committed atrocious crimes in China. Understandably, China still distrusts Japan. A nuclear-armed Japan is a Chinese nightmare. At the moment, South Korea has faith in its alliance with the U.S. and has no need to possess nuclear weapons. While in Seoul, Pence told South Koreans "We (Americans) are 100 percent with you." However, should some unforeseen event shake South Korea's faith, the country has the cash, industrial base and technical wherewithal to quickly build nuclear weapons. China knows Japanese and South Korean nuclear weapons would work.
The declared U.S. goal of a "denuclearized peninsula" signals to China that the U.S. will guarantee that China won't face a nuclear-armed South Korea. Should North Korea collapse and South Korea absorb it, the reunified Korea won't have nukes. Pence didn't say it, but the art of this Trump diplomatic deal could include guarantees that Japan won't acquire nukes.
Denuclearizing the Korean peninsula is a goal shared by the sane, a category which excludes North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and his regime stalwarts. Seoul, Tokyo, Honolulu and Guam are all currently within range of North Korean ballistic missiles, and North Korea has threatened them with nuclear strikes.
Shanghai, however, is also within range, as are Beijing, Manila, Hanoi and Russia's Vladivostok.
The BBC recently reported that North Korea wants "to be able to put a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach targets around the world, including the US." The Taepodong-2 ICBM could strike Moscow and New Delhi and some military analyst think it could hit parts of the continental U.S.
Impoverished North Korea intends to project a global nuclear threat -- which substantiates the charge that dictator Kim Jong Un is megalomaniacal.
According to Pence, isolation is the predicate for North Korean denuclearization. Complete economic isolation would deny North Korea all imports and stop its exports. North Korea has coal, but deprived it of energy imports would reduce Pyongyang's already pitiful industrial and transportation activities to a trickle.
Since China and Russia border North Korea, isolation is impossible without their cooperation. Truly complete economic isolation would require a naval blockade. That might get touchy. Iran might try to ship oil to North Korea by tanker. Can the Trump Administration convince the Chinese navy will intercept blockade runners? Close American-Chinese cooperation in that tight degree might well secure termination of North Korea's nuclear weapons quest. It would tell disgruntled North Korean generals that the world has changed and it's time they terminated the Kim regime.