Several senior administration officials told CNN Thursday that President Donald Trump’s strategy toward North Korea hinges on one word: China.
“Nobody thinks the Chinese are going to press North Korea militarily or bring the regime to its knees, but the strategy looks to China to find a political solution more than anything else,” one senior official said.
The officials said Trump’s approach is based on a careful review of past US efforts to deal with North Korea, noted that during the analysis of failed negotiating efforts with the long-reigning Kim family, one thing became abundantly clear: “China has never exerted maximum leverage on the Kim regime.”
Trump’s China-centric approach comes as the US sees evidence that the Chinese military is preparing to respond to a potential situation in North Korea, a US defense official told CNN Thursday.
Chinese air force land-attack, cruise-missile-capable bombers were put “on high alert” on Wednesday, the official said, adding that the US has also seen an extraordinary number of Chinese military aircraft being brought up to full readiness through intensified maintenance.
The official said that these recent steps by the Chinese are assessed as part of an effort to “reduce the time to react to a North Korea contingency.”
Such a contingency could include the risk of an armed conflict breaking out as tensions on the peninsula have risen in the wake of multiple North Korean missile tests. There has also been ratcheted up rhetoric from the US and Pyongyang, with the latter’s state media warning Thursday that a pre-emptive strike by North Korea would result in the US and South Korea being “completely destroyed in an instant.”
Beijing has long been concerned about potential instability in North Korea should the regime in Pyongyang collapse, fearing both an influx of refugees and the potential of reunification under a South Korean government closely allied to the US.
SOURCE: Ryan Browne and Elise Labott