U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un are playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship.
North Korea got the world's attention – and Trump's – when it successfully launched an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time on July 4. In response, the United Nations approved new economic sanctions against North Korea which, predictably, inspired a bellicose response from the rogue regime.
Trump threatened that further provocations will be met with "fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before."
In response, North Korea issued a threat of its own – missile strikes on the U.S. territory of Guam.
With tensions escalating, it is important to be realistic about how we can get out of this mess.
In short, any nonmilitary solution will rely on China choosing to apply its massive economic leverage over the North Korean regime. This is a point that Trump clearly recognizes. In July, he tweeted that Chinese trade with North Korea "rose 40 percent in the first quarter," highlighting China's reluctance to punish North Korea for its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
@realDonaldTrump: Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us - but we had to give it a try!
While the poor quality of the data hinders a detailed analysis, Trump's overall sentiment is correct. China has increased its trade with North Korea in recent years and done little to forestall North Korea's nuclear ambitions besides backing the most recent round of U.N. sanctions. China's foremost objective seems to be promoting greater stability from its volatile neighbor.
Yet a quick look at the data, however murky, shows just how much leverage China has, if it wishes to use it.