- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2017

As President Trump turned to China for help resolving the nuclear standoff between the U.S. and North Korea, the president’s advisers acknowledged Wednesday that the regime in Pyongyang isn’t showing any signs of a willingness to talk about dismantling its arsenal.

In the wake of Mr. Trump’s demand that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un submit to “complete, verifiable and total denuclearization,” aides traveling with the president on his 12-day Asia trip say there’s little prospect of that happening.

“They have shown very little sign that they’re interested in talking,” said a senior administration official. “They are the ones who have been saying they’re unwilling to talk about nuclear weapons. That’s a nonstarter for us.”

Mr. Trump held one-on-one meetings in Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom the U.S. regards as the key to pressuring North Korea. Mr. Xi has agreed to steps such as approving U.N. Security Council sanctions against Mr. Kim’s regime, but the administration and its allies believe China could exert far more economic pressure on North Korea.

China accounts for about 90 percent of North Korea’s trade, and more than 5,000 Chinese companies are doing business with North Korea, said Sen. Cory Gardner, Colorado Republican and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.

China is the only country that holds the diplomatic and economic leverage necessary to put the true squeeze on North Korean regime,” Mr. Gardner said Wednesday at a forum hosted by the Heritage Foundation. “Beijing is the reason that the Kim Jong-un regime acts so boldly and with relatively few consequences.”

In September, China ordered North Korean companies operating within its borders to shut down within 120 days amid the latest round of U.N. sanctions. But Beijing did not order Chinese companies in North Korea to cease operations.

The Chinese government has moved to ban domestic tourism agencies from operating tours to Pyongyang, Reuters reported this week.

But in another sign that robust business between the two countries continues, a North Korean vessel was allowed to dock at a Chinese port handling cargos such as coal on Tuesday, NK News reported. The North Korea-flagged Kum Dae arrived near the port in northeast China on Nov. 2.

“We know that some of that activity is continuing, and we’re going to work closely with the Chinese to identify that activity and end it,” the senior administration official said. “China is doing much more than it’s ever done in the past, but it’s not the time for complacency or for allowing people to slip through loopholes and for a lot of that residual activity to continue.”

Mr. Gardner said one Chinese firm alone accounts for nearly 10 percent of North Korea’s imports, and that many Chinese banks have been doing business with Pyongyang. He said the U.S. should threaten sanctions against Chinese entities if necessary to shut off North Korea’s supply lines.

“This must stop now,” Mr. Gardner said. “The administration should not be afraid of a diplomatic confrontation with Beijing for simply enforcing U.S. law. In fact, it should be more afraid of Congress if it does not.”

Mr. Trump and his allies are also trying a new approach with China, essentially trying to shame Beijing into action by highlighting a moral imperative to isolate a cruel and dangerous regime that is threatening global security.

In a speech to South Korea’s national assembly Wednesday, Mr. Trump urged “responsible nations” to unite and stop supporting North Korea.

“You cannot support, you cannot supply, you cannot accept,” he said, calling on “every nation, including China and Russia,” to fully enforce sanctions against North Korea.

Reciting decades of North Korea’s human rights abuses, torture and deprivations for its citizens, Mr. Trump asked aloud, “Why would China feel an obligation to help North Korea?”

Mr. Gardner made a similar argument Wednesday at Heritage.

China must now move beyond a mere articulation of concern and lay out a transparent path of focused pressure to denuclearize North Korea,” he said. “A global power that desires global responsibility and that borders this regime cannot simply throw up its hands to absolve itself of its responsibility.”

North Korea’s regime said Wednesday it’s done listening to Mr. Trump.

“We don’t care about what that mad dog may utter because we’ve already heard enough,” North Korean officials told CNN. “The United States is threatening us with nuclear aircraft carriers and strategic bombers. They are challenging us with the most vicious and demeaning provocations but we will counter those threats by bolstering the power of justice in order to take out the root cause of aggression and war.”

Patrick Cronin, senior director of Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, said North Korea will be the “No. 1 challenge” facing the Trump administration for the foreseeable future.

“We are still facing a potential train wreck,” Mr. Cronin said. “There is still a point of tension that has to be resolved.”


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