North Korea said it had successfully tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-14, on July 4. It claimed that it had become a nuclear country owning both nuclear weapons and global strike capability.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un described the test as a “gift” to “American bastards” on their independence day and reaffirmed that he would not negotiate over nuclear weapons and missiles.
US President Donald Trump responded in his Twitter feed: “Does this guy [Kim Jong-un] have anything better to do with his life?”
On the same day, the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers issued a joint statement, calling for North Korea to suspend its ballistic missile programme and for the US and South Korea to simultaneously suspend large-scale military exercises.
The statement also expressed opposition to the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system.
By launching the missile, North Korea showed that it would not be restricted by the “red lines” set by the US and that it would continue its confrontation with the US.
The US military initially said the missile launched by Pyongyang was an intermediate-range one and would not threaten North America. It is also doubtful whether North Korea has the ability to make miniature nuclear warheads.
However, North Korea’s latest missile test is a serious challenge for Mr Trump’s unclear Asia strategy.
Perhaps North Korea will own intercontinental ballistic missiles in five years. It is time for the international community to find new ways to really solve the North Korean nuclear crisis.
The US wants to work with China, Russia, Japan and South Korea to jointly push for the denuclearisation of North Korea before negotiations.
Nevertheless, while these countries, including South Korea, hope North Korea can abandon its nuclear programmes, they will not blindly follow the US. It is more likely that China, Russia and South Korea will put forward their own initiatives as the US exerts pressure over North Korea.
From the former George W. Bush administration to the Trump administration, the White House insists that China has absolute influence over North Korea.
If China can increase its pressure on the country, the North Korean nuclear crisis will be solved. When the US thinks China has not tried its best to press North Korea, the US threatens to use trade to impose pressure on China.
However, as Fu Ying, chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the 12th National People’s Congress, wrote in an article titled “The Korean nuclear issue: past, present, and future: A Chinese perspective”: Without holding the key to the DPRK’s security concerns, China has no leverage to convince this foreign nation to stop its nuclear programme.”
Mr Fu wrote, “The September 19 Joint Statement, February 13 Joint Document and October 3 Joint Document, which were achieved through the Six-Party Talks, represent the maximum consensus among all parties and together provide a road map for a political solution to the Korean nuclear issue. The disruption of the talks was due to a failure to implement the agreements, and the nuclear issue has escalated in the absence of talks.”
Since the suspension of the Six-Party Talks and the deadlock of the September 19 Joint Statement, the Barack Obama administration took a policy of “strategic patience” on North Korea, waiting for the regime of Kim Jong-un to collapse.
This policy has been described as a “total failure” by Mr Trump.
Mr Trump regards unconditional negotiations with North Korea as a shame. But a military option will mean huge risks for the Pentagon, and the result is doomed to be miserable.
More importantly, the US has to consider the interests of China and Russia, which do not want to get involved in wars.
Mr Trump may have realised that in dealing with the North Korean nuclear crisis, the US has no military options apart from enforcing more sanctions, frequently carrying out joint military drills and conducting missile interceptor exercises.
In the future, North Korea will conduct more missile tests, but it is difficult for the White House to take military action against North Korea.
Reality has forced the US to realise that only by strengthening cooperation with China and Russia can it find a correct solution to the present North Korean nuclear crisis. More dialogue with North Korea can also help.
An attainable goal is to make North Korea freeze its development of nuclear weapons and missile technology, in exchange for relaxing economic sanctions and suspending joint military exercises against North Korea.
The North Korean nuclear crisis is different from what it was in 2003, which means the road map under the Six-Party Talks requires revision.
The goal for reaching a consensus on “suspension-for-suspension” and “dual-track approach” proposals is not aimed at forming a China-Russia united front, but preventing a vicious circle and possible collapse of the peaceful situation in Northeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific region. Global Times
The author is professor and director of the School of International Politics, Institute of Politics and Public Management, Yanbian University.