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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on March 18)

2017/03/18 09:07

Tillerson's China job

Time is right to squeeze leaders on NK, THAAD

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was right to assess the past 20 years of America's North Korea policy as a failure as illustrated by the progress the rogue state has made in developing nuclear weapons and missiles.

Tillerson was also right that a new approach is needed. He did not reveal what the new approach is.

Obviously, the reasons for this monumental policy failure should be considered when seeking a successful alternative.

For that, Tillerson, who will head to Beijing on the last leg of his three-nation tour after Tokyo and Seoul, and, by extension, the Trump administration, should start by putting further pressure on Beijing so it will behave.

Bejing leaders claim China has limited influence on the North -- a blatant lie when considering it is the North's only enabler and provides a lifeline for the impoverished state. Penalizing Chinese companies for trading with North Korea and keeping a closer watch on Beijing's compliance with United Nation's sanctions on Pyongyang would reveal the extent of China's deception.

China opposes the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, a U.S. missile interceptor, as a ruse to drive a wedge in the Seoul-Washington alliance. In a way, this tactic is showing signs of working, with Korean merchants complaining about the dwindling number of Chinese tourists and the authorities there harassing companies. Liberal politicians, including leading presidential candidates, have vowed to stop the THAAD battery if they take power.

Therefore, Tillerson should clearly tell Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi to stop the THAAD masquerade and reason with its client state to put a hold on its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. This would ease fears in Korea and prevent any split in the alliance.

China and the North maintain a "lip-and-teeth" relationship to use the WMD and THAAD as a package to fend off the expected U.S. onslaught that will inevitably spread to trade and the South China Sea. So solving the THAAD dispute could prove useful in taming the North. .

For this new approach to succeed, the U.S. should exert the greatest possible pressure, short of war, on Beijing and Pyongyang. Trump's Republican predecessor, George W. Bush boasted about his government's tough approach toward the North by talking about a "bold approach" and a military option, but this failed to emerge during the period of failure cited by Tillerson.

If Tillerson were in Tokyo and Seoul for a final briefing on Trump's North Korea policy, he would report to his boss that it would be more realistic to recognize the North as a nuclear state _ as former Secretary of Defense William Perry suggested in an interview with The Korea Times -- and apply a powerful tit-for-tat approach.