US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's visit to East Asia has attracted public attention on the Korean Peninsula. Tillerson said in Tokyo Thursday that "a different approach is required" after 20 years of diplomacy had "failed" to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. He claimed that Beijing, the main source of economic and political support for Pyongyang, has a "very important role to play." Public opinion in the US, Japan and South Korea speculates that Tillerson will require China to do more to strengthen sanctions on Pyongyang.
Tensions on the Peninsula are ramping up. Pyongyang refuses to unilaterally halt its nuclear and missile activities; Washington and Seoul, with no new solutions to reach their goal, are putting more blame on China.
CNN reported that Washington is prepared to increase financial penalties against Chinese companies and banks that do business with North Korea. The US is splashing dirty water on China. Beijing strongly opposes the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, and will not change its position on the issue. Even if China cannot dissuade the US from deploying it now, it can punish South Korea severely, and this will embarrass Washington.
The US assumes that Chinese banks and companies are maintaining extensive cooperation with North Korea. If Washington makes its Pyongyang policy based on such a misjudgment, it will make more serious mistakes.
Beijing is as firm as Washington and Seoul in opposing Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. China is adjacent to the Korean Peninsula, and any nuclear activity in the region will put its security at long-term risk. Beijing will try every means to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
China has halted coal imports from North Korea for the rest of this year. Beijing has also imposed strict restrictions on its exports to Pyongyang. But China won't turn the sanctions from targeting the North Korean nuclear program into a punishment for ordinary North Korean people.
Washington and Seoul are trying to shift all the burden of solving the North Korean nuclear issue onto China and include China into their strategy toward Pyongyang. But that way, China and North Korea will become enemies, further complicating the conflict. The North Korean nuclear issue is caused by Washington-Pyongyang confrontation, to which China has no obligation to shoulder all the responsibilities.
The extreme isolation from the international community hasn't been able to bring Pyongyang to its knees. Even if China cuts ties with it, there won't be any difference. Washington needs to be reminded that its sanctions in history failed to topple any regime.
Washington and Seoul would rather stick to the wrong path than try the new approach. Sanctions and threats have been the main theme of the US strategy toward Pyongyang for the past 20 years. If Washington only adjusts the degree of sanctions and threats, it is still on the wrong path.
By joining the sanctions, China has significantly altered its Pyongyang policy. But Washington is reluctant to make the minor adjustment of implementing suspension-for-suspension approach and adopting a dual-track policy. It is disappointing.