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Trade war may hamper denuclearization
  来源:苹果蓝号检测  更新时间:2024-07-26 02:19:53
Confrontations will give more leverage to China on NK issue

By Kim Jae-kyoung

Amid the tit-for-tat trade dispute between the United States and China, there are brewing concerns that the duel could turn into a long-lasting, full-blown war negatively affecting the denuclearization of North Korea.

There have yet to be any signs that China is trying to link the two issues but analysts expect that if the confrontation spins out of control, Beijing will likely use the nuclear issue as leverage to tip the balance in its favor.


The North's economy is now in a dire situation as a result of the economic sanctions imposed on it under U.S. President Donald Trump's maximum pressure strategy.

Given Pyongyang is running out of hard currency, any sanctions relief from China can give a new lifeline to the cash-strapped Kim Jong-un regime thwarting Trump's denuclearization attempts.

"This trade war will negatively affect the prospects for North Korea's denuclearization," Liang Tuang Nah, a research fellow of the Military Studies Program at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore, told The Korea Times.

He thinks that while China is legally obligated to enforce the impactful UNSC mandated sanctions against the North, Beijing might well use the denuclearization issue as a pawn against the U.S. by reducing its implementation of trade restrictions.

"This would amount to a de facto relaxation of sanctions, given the Kim Jong-un regime some badly needed economic breathing room," said the expert on North Korea and nuclear weapons.

"Also, if Kim changes his mind and turns to nuclear or missile antagonism, Beijing is likely to be less cooperative at the UNSC when it comes to approving new sanctions."

Nah's concerns come as trade confrontations coincide with North Korea not taking any tangible actions toward denuclearization since the historic Singapore summit between Trump and Kim on June 12.

The tension between the two economic giants has been escalating as China announced Monday that it had filed a complaint to the World Trade Organization (WTO) after Trump's threats to place tariffs on an additional $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Trump's tricky bet

What is tricky about the rapidly escalating trade war is that President Trump will have to take the risk of losing nearly all of his leverage if North Korea isn't moving forward on demilitarization or denuclearization talks fail.

In other words, if the U.S. levies tariffs on most of China's exports, and Beijing is reluctant to increase sanctions, it has very little economic room to encourage China to expand or stringently enforce sanctions that are needed to push North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

Troy Stangarone, senior director at the Korea Economic Institute (KEI), believes that Trump's hard line against China over trade issues will complicate the task of denuclearizing the Kim regime.

"Because President Trump has linked the issues, having previously suggested that the U.S. would give China a good deal on trade if it helped on North Korea, it does open the door for China to later use that as a form of leverage should the trade conflict continue to escalate," said Stangarone.

Against this backdrop, it is important to acknowledge that China wants the North's disarmament but it is not on the same page with the U.S. and South Korea over how to denuclearize the isolated country.

Stephan Haggard, director of the Korea-Pacific Program at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy, believes that China is already showing signs that it is interested in relieving sanctions.

"This could be because it has a different view of how negotiations should unfold. They are more comfortable with a very gradual step-by-step approach with concessions from both sides," he said.

"If the trade war persists, though, the U.S. could find it harder to get cooperation from China on other things, including North Korea."

China's leniency

There have already been numerous signs that China has become more lenient to its ally in enforcing international sanctions.

Since Kim made his first visit to Beijing in April, trade activities across their border have increased.

At a recent U.S. Senate hearing, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, "We have observed China not enforcing control over its cross-border area as vigorously as it was six or 12 months ago."

According to a July 1 report by the Japanese newspaper the Yomiuri Shimbun, Chinese President Xi Jinping responded positively to Kim Jong-un's request to help ease international sanctions during the latter's most recent visit to Beijing in mid-June.

In this regard, the bottom line should be that trade issues with China will not harm the shared goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula agreed upon both at the Trump-Kim summit on June 12 and April 27 Moon-Kim summit.

To that end, it is incumbent on both the U.S. and China to ensure implementation of sanctions until complete and verifiable denuclearization is realized.

"What China and others must not do, especially now, is to loosen enforcement of sanctions imposed on North Korea," said Joseph DeTrani, a former U.S. envoy to the six-party talks with North Korea.

"This would send a wrong and unfortunate signal to North Korea which would then encourage them to delay the dismantlement process, and the resultant security assurances, so necessary for a peaceful resolution of issues with the North."



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