With North Korea, Trump is finally getting the kind of reciprocal relationship that he says he likes.
Except unlike with China, where the give-and-take would theoretically be two economies equally open to trade and investment, the U.S. and North Korean leaders are finding themselves locked in an unprecedented back-and-forth of similarly petty, personally-addressed nuclear threats.
Here’s how it went down:
- Trump threatened North Korea with “total destruction” at the UN on September 19, and for a second time called Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man.” (The LA Times reports that Trump’s advisors told him not to do this, but he went ahead with it anyway.)
- Kim Jong-un made his first-ever personal statement directed at another head of state calling Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” (or “old beast lunatic” depending on translation), and vowing to take the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history” (see transcript on Vox).
- The North’s foreign minister also said that the country might soon conduct its “biggest ever hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific,” an operation that analysts say is entirely possible, and — if it does happen — not unlikely to go awry and accidentally start a nuclear war. See this New York Times report (paywall) for analysis.
- Trump took to Twitter on September 22 to call Kim “obviously a madman,” who “will be tested like never before.”
As Evan Osnos reminds us on this week’s episode of the Sinica Podcast and in his recent cover story in the New Yorker, these two men — unlike leaders in past nuclear conflicts — collectively have “less than seven years of experience in political leadership.”
In response to the braggadocio from Trump and Kim, China issued warnings to both sides. Foreign Minister Wang Yi 王毅 called on the North “not to go further along a dangerous direction,” Reuters reports. He added, “We call upon all parties to play a constructive role in easing tensions. There is still hope for peace and we must not give up. Negotiation is the only way out, which deserves every effort.”
Read more analysis on the crisis:
- Ankit Panda, senior editor at the Diplomat, writes in the Atlantic on how Trump’s threats dangerously break precedent and misunderstand Kim Jong-un’s motivations for seeking nuclear weapons.
- Ely Ratner, an expert on Chinese national security issues at the Council on Foreign Relations, points out that China’s state media continues to reserve some of its harshest condemnations for South Korea’s military cooperation with the U.S., rather than North Korea. This echoes an op-ed by John Pomfret in the Washington Post earlier this month, which proposed that China’s real reluctance to crack down on North Korea is driven by a perception that “North Korea chips away at American strength and prestige.”
Steve Bannon held secret meeting in China / FT (paywall)
Secret meeting with Steve Bannon in Beijing adds to speculation over Wang Qishan’s future / SCMP
In the mood for more speculation over what the meeting with Bannon means for Wang? See contrasting commentary on Twitter from Bill Bishop and several Chinese journalists.
U.S. tries to enlist EU and Japan in China tech fight / FT (paywall)
More on North Korea
China state media: Pulling out of Iran deal would set ‘bad precedent’ for North Korea / CNBC
China: Trump bank ban statement ‘not consistent’ with facts / AP
China advises against unilateral sanctions against North Korea / SCMP
China names new military commander for strategically important region near North Korea / SCMP
Has Chinese machinery helped North Korea to achieve surprise crop growth despite worst drought in decades? / SCMP
19th Party Congress
Reliving China’s Long March ahead of party congress / Reuters
China’s about to get its first new central bank head in 15 years / CNBC
China upgrades climate aid to the global south / Chinadialogue
China’s most notorious e-waste dumping ground now cleaner but poorer / SCMP
China’s Communist Party expels former provincial chief for graft / SCMP
China top graft buster says corruption fight ‘world class hard’ / Reuters