Both before and after his election, President Donald Trump insisted North Korea’s bellicose weapons buildup presented a problem that China must solve.
During the presidential campaign, he said the Obama administration failed to earn China’s respect.
Now Trump sees China, which continues to trade with Kim Jung Un’s pariah nation, as failing to curb the menace after the launch this week of an ICBM capable of reaching Alaska.
China and Russia called the test “unacceptable.”
So what happens next?
For all the day-to-day messaging and warnings that the U.S. president sends out, and all the back-and-forth over China, we have no clearer idea than we did pre-Trump of what follows.
Maybe a lack of predictability qualifies as a good strategy when confronting an unpredictable leader of ill intent. But there may be a difference between unreadable and unintelligible.
One question is which one Trump’s stance will prove to be.
In April, after some of Kim’s threatening antics, the White House said it was sending an armada to North Korea, though no ships were en route. After meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump said the situation is “not as simple as people would think.”
By contrast, the Pentagon’s official statements in the past 48 hours sounded sharp and deliberately broad. The U.S. and South Korea carried out a joint missile drill.
“We strongly condemn this act by North Korea. It is escalatory, it is destabilizing, it is also dangerous,” said Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis.
“This act demonstrates that North Korea poses a threat to the United States and our allies, and we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies and to use the full range of capabilities at our disposal.”
What happens next?
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson added: “Any country that hosts North Korean guest workers, provides any economic or military benefits, or fails to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions is aiding and abetting a dangerous regime.”
But what happens next?
Trump meets this week with, among others, Chinese and Russian leaders. Trade is a prime issue, but the goals in North Korea are gaining urgency. Saber-rattling and tough talk will no doubt continue — toward what resolution, nobody on earth could know for sure.