Comment on the North Korean Missile Launch

I was on BBC television this evening (via the Leeds studio) discussing the North Korean missile launch with Celia Hatton, who, fortunately for me and the BBC, is a veteran ‘China hand’ with years of experience in Beijing. Hatton is now a presenter in London, and she was kind enough to have a discussion with me about the relevant issues prior to going on the air, and also to give me the chance to fully debrief a BBC News producer so as to carve down areas of maximum value for our on-air time.

As the episode is not on the BBC iPlayer, I thought I would share a few of the ideas here.

  • China was possibly forewarned about the test on 7 February at the DPRK Embassy in Beijing.
  • North Korean leaders are hypersensitive to Chinese pressure and influence in their country.
  • China is structurally locked in to (and indeed voted for) United Nations sanctions on North Korea, but enforcement along the border is not a matter for UN inspectors and its long-range plan hopes are for a limited renaissance of capitalism or marketization in North Korea.
  • The PRC Foreign Ministry was absolutely seized on Friday with questions about Trump and Taiwan, and has yet to comment on the launch.
  • Although the US State Department is still lacking bodies, American alliances with South Korea and Japan were among the few areas that the Trump administration officials (not just obvious candidates like General Mattis, but the embattled National Security Advisor Michael Flynn) had made efforts to shore up prior to the current launch.
  • The US has yet to take Kim Jong-un and his regime to task for human rights violations at the UN or elsewhere, which is surely appreciated by Pyongyang.
  • North Korean state media has not taken anything resembling a provocative step by denouncing Donald Trump, James Mattis, or Mike Flynn by name, even though both Mattis and Flynn have met with hated members of the South Korean state and the U.S. plans military drills in Korea next month.
  • Even if the Trump administration dissolves into a heap of factionalism, isolationist ethnonationalism, and total ineptitude, Congress is going to continue to push for secondary sanctions on Chinese firms doing business with North Korea; this problem is not going away.

A few related tweets:

Image: Kim Jong-un in a new apartment building elevator for scientists with a decidedly Trumpian touch. Screengrab from Chosun Central Television documentary. 

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