How Trump and Xi Should Deal with North Korea

Korea Chair Snapshot

North Korea will be a top issue in the Trump-Xi summit this week (April 6-7) as Pyongyang's drive for a modern nuclear weapons force and a capacity to reach the United States with ICBMs continues unabated. Xi will be looking for the United States to return to diplomacy with North Korea as a way to avert a crisis. 

What are the key points for the United States regarding diplomacy?
  • Kim Jong-un has shown no interest in dialogue with any partners, including China, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and the United States - in the U.S. case, despite numerous attempts by the previous administration to establish contact. 
  • It makes no sense for the U.S. to return to diplomacy with North Korea as long as 85 percent of the North's external trade is with China. 
  • If China insists on providing hard currency to the North, then it should be for denuclearization and not for minerals, coal, or other items (because the U.S. under Trump is unlikely to pay for freezes anymore as it did in the last two agreements).
Short of a resumption of diplomacy, the U.S. must encourage China to:
  • Go beyond the 2017 coal import ban in titrating other economic interaction with the North. 
  • Require the Chinese to halt financial transactions with North Korea through Chinese banks and front companies (for detailed recommendations, see our piece by Anthony Ruggiero).
  • Crack down on Chinese nationals who evade UN Security Council resolutions regarding business in dual-use items or dollar-denominated transactions with North Korea.
  • Align domestic law with UNSCRs of which China is a signatory to ensure that violations of such resolutions constitute prosecutable violations of domestic law.
Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images
Victor Cha
Senior Vice President for Asia and Korea Chair