On Jan. 6 North Korea tested a nuclear explosive device and bragged that it was a thermonuclear weapon. On Feb. 7 it launched a small satellite from a rocket with the potential for becoming an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Both acts were in violation of United Nations resolutions, and both appear to have caused President Barack Obama wisely to abandon his policy of “strategic patience,” which meant, in effect, ignoring North Korean provocations.
The signs are that he is preparing to take needed action to blunt North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
But China remains an obstacle to dealing firmly with North Korea. Taking effective steps will mean getting Chinese cooperation or ignoring Chinese warnings to the U.S. and its allies.
In either case, preparing to act on North Korea’s continuing provocations is necessary.
And a bill that comes before the Senate today would urge President Obama to impose sanctions on Chinese firms or any others that sell North Korea supplies for its military programs — or that sell luxury goods for the North Korean leadership.
The legislation has already passed the House with strong bipartisan support. Its enactment would undoubtedly strengthen the president’s hand in talking to Beijing about North Korea.
After the January nuclear test, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said her government was in serious talks with President Obama and other allies, like Japan, who agree that North Korea must suffer “a corresponding price” for its actions in the form of what she called “bone-numbing” sanctions.
After the February missile test, South Korea agreed to consider the deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system known as THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) despite Beijing’s objections. The Chinese government repeated in a strongly worded statement Monday that it would be “unwise” for the United States to deploy THAAD in “disregard” of Beijing’s objections.
China has so far opposed new United Nations sanctions on North Korea, which it sees as a necessary buffer against South Korea, Japan and the United States while it seeks to enlarge its sphere of influence in Asia.
On the other hand, China has deplored North Korea’s actions, in part because they strengthen U.S. alliances in the region.
So far, North Korea has blatantly ignored China’s warnings on its nuclear and missile programs. That boosts the opportunity for the United States and South Korea to persuade Beijing to crack down on Chinese firms that trade with North Korea, even in the absence of formal new U.N. sanctions.
The bill now before the Senate will empower President Obama to unilaterally sanction those Chinese firms — and any firms connected with them — if Beijing refuses to act.
That puts it squarely to China’s leaders: Help put a stop to North Korea’s military provocations or face a period of heightened tension with its major trading partners in Asia and the West.
In any event, North Korea must be made to suffer for its dangerous pursuit of weapons of mass destruction — and their delivery systems.