April 20, 2017 10:00 am JST

Editorial: Resolving North Korea needs dialogue -- and pressure

Allies should encourage China to nudge Pyongyang on nukes and missiles

North Korean troops march in a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of the country's founding father, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang on April 15. © Reuters

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are mounting steadily. And with North Korea refusing to resume the six-party talks involving the U.S., China, North and South Korea, Japan and Russia, it will be difficult to dispossess North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un, of their nuclear weapons and missile programs merely by calling for more dialogue.

The most urgent priority is to avoid a potentially catastrophic military clash. At the same time, a way must be found to restore stability to Northeast Asia by involving China, which maintains substantial leverage over North Korea. All the tools at its disposal, both carrots and sticks, should be considered to change Pyongyang's course.

North Korea held a massive military parade on April 15 to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of the country's founder, Kim Il Sung. In a speech at the event, Choe Ryong Hae, vice chairman of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, said his country would respond to a "nuclear war with our style of nuclear strike."

On April 16, in its latest show of defiance, Pyongyang conducted another test launch of a ballistic missile, though the attempt appeared to have failed. On April 25, the regime will celebrate the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army. North Korea's goal appears to be to impress the world with its nuclear prowess and pressure Washington into direct talks. Speculation is also rife that the North is preparing for a sixth nuclear test.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump has dispatched a carrier strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson to waters off the Korean Peninsula. The administration appears to be weighing the possibility of a pre-emptive strike. Washington is also considering redeploying nuclear weapons with U.S. forces in South Korea.

The U.S. cruise missile strike against a Syrian air base on April 6 and the bombing on April 13 of an Islamic State target in Afghanistan with a Massive Ordnance Air Blast weapon were no doubt intended in part to warn the Kim regime that U.S. patience is running out.

Until recently, Beijing has not been actively pushing North Korea to halt its testing. But it has shown signs of changing in its stance since Trump shifted from the policy of "strategic patience" pursued by his predecessor, Barack Obama, to one of pressure. When Chinese President Xi Jinping met Trump in Florida earlier in April, Xi told him Beijing was ready to cooperate on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. This is a welcome change.

The window for dialogue with North Korea should be kept open. To move Beijing further toward cooperation with Washington, it is important for the U.S., Japan and South Korea to maintain a common front. It would be unwise of Japan and South Korea to deepen their rifts over historical and other issues.

If stability is to be restored to Northeast Asia, the countries concerned must find a realistic solution regarding North Korea through a judicious balance of dialogue and pressure.

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