As the United States works with its allies to address North Korea’s increasingly aggressive armament programs in the wake of the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missile launch this week, President Donald Trump took a swing at China Wednesday morning for failing to put enough economic pressure on Pyongyang.
While the United States and other countries have put punitive sanctions on Pyongyang over the past decade, China has increasingly become North Korea’s economic lifeline. In the first quarter of 2017, China’s economic data showed a more than 37 percent rise in trade with North Korea over the same period in 2016, according to reports from The New York Times, including a nearly 55 percent jump in Chinese exports to Pyongyang.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in April that China accounts for 90% of North Korea’s total trade. The most recent data from the Congressional Research Service estimates that, in early 2016, China accounted for about 70 percent of Pyongyang’s total trade, including essential goods and services like food and energy.
However, experts believe as other regional countries, including Japan and South Korea, have reduced trade with North Korea over the past year, China’s exports to the country have risen.
“U.S. policy to pressure North Korea depends heavily on China’s influence,” the CRS report said. “China’s overriding priority appears to be to prevent the collapse of North Korea.”
If history is any indication, economic pressure “can push North Korea to re-engage in talks, usually to extract more aid,” according to the CRS.
While Chinese agencies reported a decline in North Korean imports in May, by nearly one-third, some experts believe China fears a North Korean collapse could create a power vacuum that might leave room for a larger U.S. presence in the region.
The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting Wednesday in response to North Korea’s missile launch, after a request from the U.S., South Korea and Japan. The North’s state media claimed the missile reached an altitude of more than 1,740 miles, flying 580 miles. This has caused experts to speculate the missile’s range could surpass 4,000 miles, putting many United States military bases, and even Alaska, within striking distance.
President Trump left Andrews Air Force Base on Wednesday morning, headed to meet with leaders from Poland ahead of the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Hamburg, Germany. While European leaders are anxious to discuss U.S. trade and climate policies at the international meeting, North Korea will undoubtedly be a prominent topic on the agenda. President Trump is also expected to meet for the second time with Chinese President Xi Jinping.