North Korea test-fires a new missile. Some of the Pentagon's most advanced warplanes fly over South Korea in a grim display of strength. Seoul's new government nervously starts buying new weapons. And here at home, President Donald Trump bashes China for failing to press Pyongyang to rein in its nuclear program.
It's been a scary few days in Washington's increasingly scary standoff with North Korea. Taken together, the events illustrate a vexing problem for Trump and key US allies across Asia: how to keep tensions with Pyongyang from escalating out of control without turning a blind eye to North Korea's rapidly advancing nuclear and missile programs.
The Trump administration's preferred strategy to stop or contain North Korea depends on persuading China to use its influence to get Pyongyang to change course. China is North Korea's biggest trading partner and routinely defends the country at the United Nations; Trump believes, correctly, that any deal with North Korea would require Chinese help. The problem is that China has given no indication that it's willing to take a harder line with Pyongyang, leading Trump to lash out on Twitter — and leaving the White House scrambling to figure out a new approach.
@realDonaldTrump: I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet...
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It's very important to take a deep breath: The two sides aren't about to go to war, let alone start firing nuclear missiles at each other. For all of its bluster, North Korea has traditionally been willing to walk back from the void rather than step into it.
That doesn't change the fact that a dangerous situation has gotten even more precarious in recent days, and there's a reason why: Both sides are using military means to get their points across. If that continues, there's potential for the scary situation to get even scarier.