Thursday, April 20, 2017

All Bark and No Bite? American Foreign Policy in North Korea

US Vice President Mike Pence spent this past week on an official visit to
South Korea. While in the region, he spoke at the Demilitarization Zone (DMZ). His speech came at an opportune time, just hours after a failed missile test in North Korea. Pence’s statements during his South Korea trip have been strong, telling South Koreans that North Korea ‘would do well not to test’ Donald Trump. However, is this just talk? The US has shown that it would rather let China deal with this issue. Therefore Pence’s visit may have just been for show, and does not signal a strong US action.

There were speculations before the North Korea missile test that it was imminent due to the importance of April 15th. It marks Kim Il-Sung’s, the founder and first leader of North Korea, birthday. When informed of this possibility, US President Donald Trump made his displeasure known via Twitter. There were even suggestions that the US would try and intercept the North Korean missile test. Of course, the military decided that this option posed too many risks for escalation.

This pattern seems to be continuing in North Korea. The US has strong words for the country, but does not follow through on any action. Instead, the US would prefer to use China’s influence in North Korea to solve this problem. The likelihood of China militarily attacking North Korea is also extremely low. Chairman Xi Jinping has made it clear that China prefers dialogue rather than action. As one of North Korea’s closest allies and its neighbor, it is clear why they would prefer this option. Since Trump is signaling that it might let China take the lead on this issue, talks may be the way the international community goes.

The option of letting China take the lead on the North Korean issue is most likely the best option for the US. However, it runs the risk of North Korea not taking America’s threats seriously. North Korea has already seen that Trump’s tweets may not mean action and instead only harsher words. If the US is going to let China take the lead on the North Korean problem, it will need to stop barking at North Korea and instead get ready to come to the negotiation table.

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