Beijing may be at a turning point when it comes to North Korea’s nuclear and militaristic ambitions, several analysts say. Historically, the nation has been the sole ally and economic backer to the most isolated state on the planet. But things may be changing.
“One thing we’re seeing is a tactical adjustment on Beijing’s part to Trump,” says John Delury, associate professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University in Seoul in an interview with CNBC. “There’s a kind of game here where Beijing is playing along to a certain extent, almost to call Trump’s bluff, and to get the Americans to recognize they have the key in their hand to unlock the problem.
“The key is not military. When you start to look carefully at the military options, they are horrific, just given the economic vulnerabilities of everyone in this neighborhood. The key the U.S. has is diplomacy.”
Following the North’s missile test in February, China officially decided to cut coal imports. Moreover, Chinese state-run media is beginning to report thoughts of cutting oil shipments. Today, two thirds of North Korea’s trade are with China giving Beijing immense leverage. And many analysts believe the country is finally moving forward to test it.
At least two-thirds of North Korea’s trade is with China, giving Beijing tremendous leverage over the state. Recent reports indicate that Chinese authorities are beginning to test that power.
“Clearly the Chinese regime is losing patience with North Korea,” says Michael Hirson, Asia director at consulting firm Eurasia Group. “We’re seeing some incremental steps that the Chinese may be in favor of doing more.”
“I think China is signaling to both sides, to the U.S. that China is doing more, that China is acting in good faith to head off a crisis in North Korea,” Hirson said. “Primarily, they’re telling the U.S. that ultimately China feels the only solution in North Korea is one that involves diplomacy and getting North Korea to the table.”