U.S. special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun decided to visit China on Thursday and Friday by changing the schedule after finishing his 3-day visit to South Korea. The State Department said the special envoy will “meet with (Chinese) officials to discuss the need to maintain international unity on North Korea” in the announcement of the changed plan. This clearly demonstrates the U.S.’ intention to prevent China from taking a divergent course regarding the sanctions against North Korea in response to a draft resolution recently submitted by China and Russia to the United Nations Security Council calling for the ease of the sanctions.
Meanwhile, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. said, “Go back to 2017, there’s a lot of stuff we did in 2017 that we can dust off pretty quickly and be ready to use (in case of North Korean provocations.)” He also added that all options are on the table. His comment refers to the situation two years ago where Washington considered strong military options, including bombi U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jrng drills against North Korean leadership and limited preemptive strikes, as North Korea continued its provocations, such as launching Hwasong-15, an intercontinental ballistic missile. It is another message that the U.S.’ warning against North Korea rejecting dialogue and negotiations may go beyond a verbal warning. The crisis in which verbal threats between the U.S. and North Korea are considered as military options has arrived.
Of course, the current situation is not the same as the volatile situation in 2017. Although the denuclearization negotiations reached a stalemate, the U.S. is trying to pave a path for dialogue and negotiations. North Korea has been also refraining public provocations despite its series of verbal threats. That may be the reason why the U.S. is putting more emphasis on pressuring North Korea with a single voice of the international community on the sanctions, rather than choosing military options.
However, China is advocating for the ease of sanctions against North Korea, let alone making a strict warning against North Korea. If the structure of North Korean sanctions is shaken amid such an increasingly tense situation, it may be seen as a signal that North Korea’s threats are working. The stubborn hardline statements of North Korea while ignoring Biegun’s requests for negotiations must be related to China and Russia’s support, which is why Washington is making an attempt to convince China to have a united voice of the international community in order to bring in North Korea to the denuclearization talks.
China and Russia’s proposal to ease North Korean sanctions is partially an attempt to weaken the U.S.’ hegemony. However, the two countries do not want the tension in the Korean Peninsula to further rise as a result of the derailment of the denuclearization talks. The sanctions against North Korea must be maintained to prevent the “nuclear domino” effect in which Northeast Asian countries’ nuclear armament is prompted by North Korean provocations.