Can we really trust China?

‘Gotta behave,” President Donald Trump warned North Korea this week.

Also on Monday, Vice President Mike Pence cautioned Pyongyang that “the era of strategic patience is over.”

During the weekend, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson telephoned Chinese leaders to talk about tension with North Korea.

All this is building up to … what?

It appears Trump and other U.S. leaders are hoping China, long a patron of North Korea, will put pressure on dictator Kim Jong Un to back away from his military buildup. One signal — at least, it was interpreted as such by some in the United States — along that line came recently, when Chinese officials refused to accept shipment of several shiploads of coal from North Korea.

That was interpreted by some as a slap at Kim’s regime by Beijing.

It may have been nothing of the sort. Since the North Korean ships were turned away, analysts have noted China is not using nearly as much coal as it did for a few years. The shipments may have been refused simply because China didn’t need them.

And Chinese officials have made it clear they remain loyal to North Korea. Just a few days ago, Beijing condemned U.S. plans to deploy a new missile system in South Korea.

If we can’t count on China to help resolve the stalemate with North Korea, what can U.S. leaders do? The options are severely — and dangerously — limited.

Still, they need to be explored, in consultation with China.

Kim’s drive to build long-range missiles carrying nuclear warheads cannot be allowed to proceed to fruition. How to stop him is a puzzle, but it is one to which Trump and other U.S. leaders need to find a solution.

By Patricia Older

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