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Trump taunts North Korea as China urges calm

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What happened, per the New York Times (links paywalled):

  • For once, it was not a tweet, but a regular old off-the-cuff remark to the press from President Trump that started an international outcry. Trump said, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” before warning, “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
  • The remark was improvised, apparently in reaction to a Washington Post story on how the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency assesses North Korea as having achieved a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit on the long-range missiles it is testing. Officials immediately went to work to downplay the heated rhetoric, though within hours, North Korea retaliated with a threat to “obliterate an American air base on Guam.”
  • The spectacle raised alarm throughout East Asia, as security analysts from China, Japan, and South Korea all expressed deep concern about what the war of words meant for the preparation and execution of American strategy in the region.

China’s response, given directly to Reuters:

  • “China calls on all parties to avoid any words or actions that might escalate the situation and make even greater efforts to resolve the issue via talks.”

Analysis on the situation:

  • Max Fisher at the New York Times points out five reasons not to panic (paywall), including that “current American action, or lack thereof, sends a message of calm and caution, rather than ‘fire and fury.’”
  • On Twitter, investment strategist and old China hand Patrick Chovanec gives an intelligent take on how the U.S. might convince China to work even closer with America on containing North Korea: He points out the U.S. first needs to convince China that “a) the alternatives are worse, and b) the U.S. appreciates China’s security concerns…[but] U.S. chest-pounding (like yesterday) might convince the Chinese of the former, but it undermines the latter.”
  • Jeffrey A. Bader at the Brookings Institute argues that “deterring and containing North Korea is our least bad option.” He lists seven strategies “that won’t work” — Trump has leaned most heavily on these two: “A U.S. preemptive strike” and “Treating North Korea as a problem for China to solve.”

Lucas Niewenhuis

Lucas Niewenhuis is an associate editor at SupChina who helps curate daily news and produce the company's newsletter, app, and website content. Previously, Lucas researched China-Africa relations at the Social Science Research Council and interned at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He has studied Chinese language and culture in Shanghai and Beijing, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.