October 5, 2017

WELL, YES: CIA Official Says China Can Do More to Pressure North Korea.

Michael Collins, the deputy assistant director of the CIA’s East Asia Mission Center, said China by all public accounts is enforcing international sanctions against North Korea, but noted Beijing’s tact in excluding key exports from their sanctions list and agreeing to limits on trade rather than an all-out ban.

“It’s clear the Chinese want to maintain influence with this regime and are probably worried about undercutting that if they pull all of their support away from North Korea,” Collins said at an intelligence conference organized by the CIA at George Washington University. “Their challenge, in my view, is to … assess the extent of support they provide to North Korea and to what extent that encourages North Korean behavior.”

Beijing accounts for 90 percent of Pyongyang’s trade, making its cooperation critical to enforcing U.S.-backed sanctions aimed at curbing the regime’s nuclear activities.

Though China last month began limiting energy supplies to the North under new United Nations sanctions, the restrictions do not apply to crude oil, which accounts for the largest share of energy exports to Pyongyang. North Korea imports all of its oil, primarily from China, providing Beijing with substantial leverage to cutoff a lifeline to the regime.

China will continue to support North Korea for at least as long as the cost of doing so (which is relatively cheap) is less than the benefit (causing major headaches for the US, Japan, and South Korea). But since nuclear nonproliferation is dead in Northeast Asia and Chinese support for North Korea helped to kill it, maybe it’s time we talked publicly to Japan and South Korea about developing their own nuclear arsenals.

It sounds extreme, but it might be the only way left short of war to change Beijing’s calculus.

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