Alarmist media screamed last week that that an American military attack on North Korea was imminent and and that a major conflict was brewing, which threatened to lead to world war. And that, because of the unbalanced, unpredictable President Trump.
In actual fact, while the US has built up a stronger deterrent force in and around the Korean peninsula, Donald Trump has had at least two phone discussions with his Chinese counterpart since their April 6-7 Mar-a-Lago summit, focused on coordinated diplomatic efforts to resume talks with North Korea, aimed at denuclearizing the peninsula. Trump has gone out of his way to praise Xi’s cooperation on the issue, saying he “is doing an amazing job as a leader.” Trump also showed sympathy for North Korean President Kim Jong-un, who suddenly had to take responsibility of his nation at the of just 27, when his father died.
During recent interventions, both Trump and his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have stated there are no plans for regime change in Pyongyang. In an interview with NPR on April 28, Tillerson said “we do not seek regime change, we do not seek a collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula,” but we seek “a denuclearized Korean Peninsula — and again that is entirely consistent with the objectives of others in the region as well.” The U.S., he added, hopes to ensure Pyongyang that they “do not need nuclear weapons to secure the existence of their regime”, which is a new initiative.
Behind the scenes, the Trump Administration has sought counsel from former Defense Secretary William Perry, who helped negotiate the 1995 nuclear disarmament deal between Washington and Pyongyang.
The Trump Administration has conveyed to the Chinese leadership what one source called the “four no’s” or four preconditions for resuming direct talks with North Korea, which have been stalled for years, following the Bush Administration’s repudiation of the 1995 agreement, and the Obama Administration’s policy of tighter sanctions and no dialogue, which was misnomered “strategic patience”. The preconditions are: no more nuclear weapon tests; no work on more advanced ballistic missiles; no efforts at constructing a nuclear warhead; and no exporting of advanced missile technologies.
The Chinese, for their part, are supportive of these objectives, which are consistent with China’s long-standing policy of pushing for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. Beijing is calling for both suspension of North Korean nuclear tests and of U.S.-South Korean military exercises, but stresses it has the military capabilities to strike any side that crosses Chinese red lines for defense.
If there is no movement forward, the danger of war will be heightened. Any military confrontation would come at a devastating price — even if the conflict remained strictly conventional. North Korea has a vast arsenal of artillery pieces and missiles that are all within range of the South Korean capital of Seoul, which is just 30 kilometers from the DMZ separating the North from the South.