Obama's Successful North Korea Policy

The Washington Post recently reported that China is pushing for a resumption of the Six Party Talks. This means one thing: President Obama's North Korea policy is working. The relationship with China works best when China needs something from us. Consider this: former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refused to see the Chinese for a year after the PLA rammed our EP3 surveillance aircraft with a fighter jet. The Chinese were begging to see him, and DOD got what it wanted from the relationship. That is the proper way to handle Beijing--the deft use of leverage.

We are demonstrating to Beijing that if it does not control its North Korean ally, China should be ready for intense U.S. pressure on its periphery.

Now we want China to use its influence to disarm North Korea, join our contingency planning for a political transition in Pyongyang that could get messy, and discuss the eventual unification of the peninsula. The fact that China is practically begging the other Six Party participants to come back to the table means that China is feeling the pain of Obama's policy. The administration has conducted joint exercises with the Republic of Korea, enacted harsh sanctions on Pyongyang, and refused to negotiate with Pyongyang unless it stops its provocations. We are demonstrating to Beijing that if it does not control its North Korean ally, China should be ready for intense U.S. pressure on its periphery. The administration should stick with its approach until Beijing forces Pyongyang to abide by international law and give up its nuclear weapons.

But the Washington Post article closes on a somewhat troubling note: the administration wants some contact with Pyongyang. This is not the time to talk to Pyongyang. Obama should not repeat President Bush's mistake--as soon as he used U.S. leverage over North Korea and China in the form of biting sanctions, he lifted them only to receive more dangerous provocations in return. Obama should wait until China is clear about its choices: disarm Kim or face unrelenting U.S. pressure.

Dan Blumenthal is a resident fellow at AEI.

Photo Credit: Flickr user the_canty/Creative Commons

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About the Author


  • Dan Blumenthal is the director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, where he focuses on East Asian security issues and Sino-American relations.  Mr. Blumenthal has both served in and advised the U.S. government on China issues for over a decade.  From 2001 to 2004, he served as senior director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia at the Department of Defense.  Additionally, he served as a commissioner on the congressionally-mandated U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission since 2006-2012, and held the position of vice chairman in 2007.  He has also served on the Academic Advisory Board of the congressional U.S.-China Working Group. Mr. Blumenthal is the co-author of "An Awkward Embrace: The United States and China in the 21st Century" (AEI Press, November 2012).

  • Phone: 202.862.5861
    Email: dblumenthal@aei.org
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