Following North Korea's latest nuclear weapons test, it's clear that China is unwilling to take Kim Jong Un to task.
Instead, China is pretending to influence North Korea, but only so that the U.S. avoids escalatory actions it fears. In short, China is playing us. It's time to start playing them.
First, Trump must throttle U.S. allies into line and make them understand that the U.S. is not bluffing about its threat to use force. At present, whether in Asia or Western Europe, most of America's major allies are allowing China to dictate the parameters of the crisis. Consider what Bridget Kendall of Cambridge University told the BBC's main Sunday show this weekend, when, noting Seoul's proximity to North Korean artillery, she asserted, "How can you possibly have a military solution?"
Kendall then referenced an article by Professor Steve Tsang, in which Tsang suggests effective diplomacy demands U.S. acceptance of China's position on the crisis. According to Tsang, the U.S. military threat to Pyongyang does not concern China because the U.S. would apparently provide "generous support" to help China deal with any refugees, and would accept Chinese influence over post-Kim Korea. As Tsang sees it, China's just demand to Trump is "talks and an acceptance of the reality of North Korea as a nuclear weapon state in return for Kim behaving himself."
But let's be clear, while their attitudes might represent the consensus of U.S. allies, Kendall and Tsang misunderstand the new driving force behind U.S. policy towards North Korea. Where that policy was once based on maintaining regional stability, it is now determined by an exigent threat to the United States. And so where the North's threat to Seoul was once a restriction on U.S. military action, it is now assessed against the threat to Honolulu.
That new reality requires Trump to prepare drastic military and economic options, outside of allied expectations, to pressure China to bring Kim into line.
First off, Trump should challenge those who wrongly claim the U.S. military cannot destroy North Korea's ballistic missile program, and outmatch Kim's retaliation. The president must also repudiate those who believe he is bluffing in his threats. To do so, Trump could deploy the B1 Bombers of the 7th and 28th Bomb Wings, the B2 bombers of the 131st and 509th Bomb Wings, and the F-22s of the 15th Wing to Guam or Japan. The president might also order three carrier strike groups deployed to Korea. Only two carrier groups are currently deployed and neither is in the Pacific, so the Pentagon has untapped fleets at its disposal.
By broadcasting these deadly arrows in the U.S. quiver, Trump would strengthen the olive branches of his diplomacy. As I've noted, a realistic diplomatic resolution is possible, but it will only succeed if both China and North Korea believe we are deadly serious about using force if diplomacy fails.
Second, Trump could dramatically increase U.S. economic confrontations of Chinese malfeasance. This should involve the imposition of sanctions on Chinese state owned companies responsible for U.S. intellectual property theft, and ramped up WTO proceedings against Chinese state subsidies. If China continues to ignore Kim's activities, the U.S. should sanction more Chinese companies and lock them out of the U.S. financial system. Some say the risks here are too great, but they are wrong. The U.S. has far less to lose from this economic showdown than China. After all, we have alternatives such as India and Vietnam for low-cost goods, and the Europeans export twice as much to the U.S. as they do to China.
Yet, as he increases economic action against China, Trump must be sure to protect U.S. allies from spillover effects. Vietnam and the Philippines are particularly crucial to America's long term interests in the Asia-Pacific. If necessary, we made need to provide significant economic aid to insulate their economies and their leaders from a Chinese downturn.
Next, Trump should make clear to Beijing that these steps are only the start. If, for example, China continues to ignore Kim, Trump could push U.S. allies to end their business dealings with China's Asia Investment and Infrastructure Bank. If they refuse, he could restrict U.S. banking access for foreign companies involved in Chinese projects. Trump could also procure more AGM-84 anti ship cruise missiles, and speed up the development of the long-range AGM-158 anti-ship cruise missile. Those weapons would allow the U.S. to threaten China's imperial island campaign in the East and South China Seas, and thus throw a wet blanket on Chinese aspirations. And he could give Taiwan whatever arms it wants.
Don't get me wrong, there are risks to all these options. Nevertheless, all of them are preferable to allowing an apparently irrational actor to launch nuclear warheads into Guam, Hawaii, or the U.S. mainland. The game has changed, it's time to roll the dice.