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China holds key to North Korea's nukes


Three things the Chinese could do to pressure Kim Jong Un.
North Korea is among the most isolated and sanctioned countries on the planet. And yet it still somehow has enough cash to develop a nuclear weapons arsenal capable of threatening much of the eastern Pacific and, some day, the United States.
The reason is simple. The regime of Kim Jong Un continues doing $5.3 billion in business each year — 85% of its trade — with China. Amid rising tensions and the threat of war, the best way to force North Korea to curb its nuclear ambitions is if China brings its considerable economic leverage to bear.
For decades, the Chinese have tolerated the Kim dynasty because it serves as a buffer against a U. S. ally in South Korea, and because any collapse risks a tide of refugees flowing across the Yalu River into China. But Kim’s pugnacious obsession with achieving a long-range delivery system for nuclear weapons has changed the calculus. China’s patience is wearing thin. A survey last year found that two-thirds of its people actually favor a U. S. airstrike against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
In the past, China quietly flouted United Nations Security Council sanctions by employing a loophole allowing trade with North Korea if it helps the “livelihood” of ordinary citizens. The result: China was buying $1 billion of North Korean coal per year. But in February, after another North Korean missile test and the alleged assassination of Kim’s half-brother, someone Beijing supported, China finally set aside the “livelihood” loophole and slashed its annual importation of North Korea coal.
Chinese ambassador: ‘China has done its utmost’ on North Korea
The Kim regime has already responded with angry, rhetorical darts in recent days — evidence of just how much clout the Chinese carry. That’s a start. But China could also:
China has already garnered American dividends for showing signs of getting tougher with its neighbor. Gone is President Trump’s fiery rhetoric about a trade war or declaring China a currency manipulator. “I actually told (Chinese President Xi Jinping) you’ll make a much better deal on trade if you get rid of this menace, ” Trump said.
Trump is even turning a blind eye for now on Chinese power grabs in the South China Sea, where Beijing has laid claim to disputed islands and reefs. U. S. Navy commanders eager to test those island claims by running warships within 12 miles of disputed shoals have been told to back off and not challenge the Chinese.
Tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of lives on the Korean Peninsula are at stake if the tensions flare out of control. China holds the key to keep that from happening.
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