BEIJING ― President Donald Trump’s designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism may not be the best way to quell the country’s nuclear ambitions, according to one expert in China.
Tong Zhao, a fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing, said Trump’s visit to China during his recent Asia trip resulted in no substantive developments in dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat. But the president’s recent rhetoric ― ridiculing the North Korean leader as “Little Rocket Man” and threatening the country with “fire and fury” ― is a “big deal for the North Koreans,” he said.
“I am afraid that this move may further convince Pyongyang that the United States adopts hostile policies against North Korea and Washington has no intentions to establish a normal relationship,” Zhao said. “This could greatly undermine the prospect of having a diplomatic solution over the Korean nuclear crisis.”
Trump’s declaration on Monday that North Korea is a state sponsor of terrorism ratchets up tensions between the U.S. and North Korea that have increased in recent months with Pyongyang’s accelerating development of missiles and nuclear weaponry.
Trump said that the designation “will impose further sanctions and penalties on North Korea ... and supports our maximum pressure campaign to isolate the murderous regime.” (North Korea had been labeled a state sponsor of terrorism before, but the designation was removed by President George W. Bush in 2008.)
During a roundtable discussion with journalists hosted by the China-United States Exchange Foundation in Bejing last week, Zhao pointed out crucial differences in how the U.S. and China view the North Korean crisis. Trump has consistently said that China, as North Korea’s closest ally, plays a key role in solving the tensions.
But according to Zhao, China sees North Korea as an insecure country preparing to defend itself against provocation by outsiders, while the U.S. believes North Korea has aggressive and offensive objectives.
“For Chinese, we feel we can tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea in the foreseeable future while we work out a long-term disarmament strategy,” Zhao said. “But for the Americans, I think they are less likely to even accept a nuclear-armed North Korea for the near future. It’s intolerable to accept that North Korea has nuclear weapons, even if just for now.”
Zhao added: “China believes there is zero hope in denuclearizing North Korea.”