Now it’s personal: Trump and Kim exchange insults – China’s latest political and current affairs news


A summary of the top news in Chinese politics and current affairs for September 22, 2017. Part of the daily SupChina newsletter, a convenient package of China’s business, political, and cultural news delivered to your inbox for free. Subscribe here.

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.”