North Korea announced on Sunday its "successful" test of a new type of high-thrust rocket engine, which was widely interpreted as "meaningful progress" in its missile capabilities. In response, US President Donald Trump said that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was "acting very, very badly."
It's an indisputable fact that North Korea is making continuous progress in rocket research and development. Theoretically speaking, Pyongyang sooner or later will acquire an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the US.
Neither the allies of the US and South Korea nor North Korea want war. The situation hasn't come to a complete impasse. But if the North continues its aggressive moves, it's only a matter of time before a military clash breaks out. The trigger may be a well-planned surprise attack, a fatal misjudgment or an accident.
The international community won't accept the legitimacy of North Korea possessing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. With Pyongyang's continuous provocation, tougher sanctions will be imposed, enforcing isolation from the outside world for a long time. But a more militarily powerful Pyongyang won't be reconciled to such pressure. It may resort to more dangerous and provocative actions, triggering new confrontations till a showdown takes place.
The continuous nuclear activities by North Korea have made the crisis more destructive. The longer the crisis lasts, the higher the stakes to all the concerned parties, including North Korea.
The best way to solve the North Korea nuclear issue is the North giving up its nuclear weapons in exchange for the security. Deterring Pyongyang with joint US-South Korean military exercises has proven useless. The effect of exerting military pressure on North Korea is counterproductive.
Nonetheless, North Korea should understand that even if it can build intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads installed, its nuclear capabilities won't transform into political stability and economic and social development.
As long as Pyongyang sticks to its nuclear program, international sanctions won't be lifted and the country will not become a normal member of international society. Despite divergences among China, the US, and Russia, the three have a highly consistent attitude on opposing North Korea's nuclear ambitions. There is little chance for Pyongyang to break the sanctions by maneuvering among them.
Pyongyang may think its preliminary nuclear devices have frightened the US. However, suppose a nuclear war breaks out between the US and North Korea, the former will suffer physical losses while the latter will be totally wiped out. Therefore, it's impossible for the US to be afraid of North Korea and make concessions.
North Korea will benefit most if it takes the initiative to abandon nuclear weapons, because it will be able to negotiate a better deal for its security. The effect of nuclear weapons can only be maximized in negotiations.
There are still communication channels between Beijing and Pyongyang; therefore Beijing has a compelling obligation to persuade Pyongyang. Washington and Seoul need to make an adjustment to make Pyongyang believe it will be more secure if it abandons nuclear weapons.
Washington and Seoul need to make some adjustments to convince Pyongyang that it will be more secure if it abandons nuclear weapons. The suspension-for-suspension approach is China's earnest advice to North Korea, as well as the US and South Korea.