On Tuesday, for the first time since September, North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile. The missile broke up in the Sea of Japan, east of Japanese soil.
What motivated North Korea to conduct another test?
1) Kim Jong Un evidently wants to show President Trump that he is not backing down to U.S. pressure. In the interim period between this test and the last launch in September, Kim may have hoped that Trump would offer a deal in terms more conciliatory to the North. He has not, and Kim is ratcheting up the pressure once again.
2) Every time North Korea launches a missile, it learns how to better perfect its ballistic missile capability. And if it can conduct new tests while escaping escalating U.S. responses, it can move the needle towards its desired status quo: America learning to live with a North Korea armed with nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The U.S. cannot accept this outcome.
Responding to this new test and Kim Jong Un's increasing threats to the U.S. and Trump personally, Trump should immediately crackdown on Chinese financial institutions which act as intermediaries for Kim's regime. This will greatly antagonize China's government, but beyond a naval blockade, the U.S. has few alternatives remaining.
China's leader Xi Jinping only has himself to blame here: Apart from a few measly energy export restrictions, he has failed to put Kim back in his box. In addition, Xi's recent decision to lift a Chinese travel ban on South Korea is not designed to strengthen the South, but rather to separate South Korea's leadership from the Trump administration.
A diplomatic agreement with North Korea might not be as complicated as some assume, but the road to peace lies through Beijing. Until China is willing to take the necessary action, the U.S. must ensure it shares in the negative consequences of Kim's antics.