- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2017


If President Trump gets what he’s after in meeting with President Xi Jinping in Beijing, it will be a triumph of almost superhuman Trumpian persuasiveness.

Our president wants Mr. Xi to threaten Chairman Kim Jong-un of North Korea with immediate and nearly total severance of economic ties with Beijing.

OK, let’s suppose Mr. Xi actually cut the lifeline Beijing now extends to Pyongyang. It would be the fulfillment of my boyish hopes and dreams as well as of Mr. Trump‘s. Mr. Kim could then bend over and kiss his ICBM-nuclear warhead program goodbye. No money, no nuke and missile testing.

Seriously. Beijing — whose $11 trillion economy ranks second only to the $18 trillion U.S. economy — accounts for 90 percent of Pyongyang’s foreign trade and 100 percent of the bank credit and loans. Mr. Xi’s Chinese goliath keeps Mr. Kim’s half-dead economy breathing, if just barely.

But take a close look at Mr. Xi who, resplendent in his polished cap-toe oxfords and bespoke dark gray suit, may find more incentive to keep North Korea intact — nukes, missiles, Kim and all. Not as a geographic security “buffer” — pathetically anachronistic in the age of missiles and hydrogen bombs. But rather as that thigh-high distraction that steers our eyes to Pyongyang’s nuke-ICBM threat instead focusing on Beijing’s territorial and military expansion. Think the artificial islands that the avuncular Mr. Xi built in the South China Sea, apparently to house long-range surface-to-air missiles — or maybe those structures on the islands are actually new PRC-style luxury condos made to look like SAM launch sites.

And then there is the commissioning of a brand new supership to build more such islands faster.

And now Beijing’s starting construction on its first-ever overseas military base anywhere — strategically situated in Djibouti on, yes, the Horn of Africa.

And what if a disintegrating North Korea, with a population of 25 million, triggers a mass exodus to Mr. Xi’s homeland just across the Yalu River. There goes all those years of government-mandated, one-child population control down that same Yalu, you could say.

Suppose Mr. Trump finds himself up against a grim reality that Mr. Xi thinks keeping Mr. Kim for the glorious distraction he provides. And that doing so is worth the risk of a new and zany — though probably not crazy — nuclear power on the Korean Peninsula. Time to pick up marbles and head back to Washington?

Not necessarily.

Mr. Trump can always resort to all-out economic/trade war with Mr. Xi’s to force him to throttle Mr. Kim and his gasping economy. You might call that a formula for mutually assured economic destruction. Which side would yell uncle first. Ours, as corporate and finance chieftains and other Godzilla-sized free-trade/ economic interests appear before congressional committees and in lawmakers’ office singing, “Just give peace a chance.”

Or Mr. Xi’s colleagues on the Communist Party’s Central Committee, who had the bejesus scared out of them by angry Chinese chieftains and workers suddenly impoverished because they no longer make things to export to the U.S.

All this unfortunately suggests nuclear proliferation may go unchecked and uncheckable, as ever more nations achieve the financial and technical wherewithal to join the nuclear, radiological, chemical, biological warfare club.

That in turn raises the question of whether the U.S. has a right, backed by the enforcement power, to tell other sovereign nations that they may or may not have weapons of mass destruction — a subject for another time.

⦁ Ralph Z. Hallow, the chief political correspondent of commentary, served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University and resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar.

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