U.S. Seeks Help From Asia To Contain North Korea
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
North Korea has denounced the U.N. Security Council's unanimous vote to impose new sanctions. Early today, its official news agency warned, quote, "there is no bigger mistake than the United States believing that its land is safe across the ocean". Here's U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley. She spoke to CNN after the vote.
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NIKKI HALEY: This resolution is the strongest resolution with sanction measures that we've seen in a generation. It will go after a third of North Korea's hard currency. It bans coal. It bans iron. It bans additional laborers that they can send overseas. It has quite huge implications to North Korea. We hope they take notice, and we'll see what happens.
CHANG: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is meeting with other foreign leaders in Manila this week, where he will try to enlist China's help to contain North Korea. Robert Daly joins us in our studios right now. He's a China specialist at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. Thank you so much for coming in.
ROBERT DALY: Good to be here.
CHANG: So President Trump tweeted last night that he is very happy and impressed with the U.N. vote on the North Korea sanctions. So OK. He's pleased, but what signal do these sanctions actually send to North Korea, you think?
DALY: The most important signal that it sends to North Korea is that the international community, all nations, including Russia and China, are united in applying greater pressure to the North Korean economy than has been applied, as Secretary - Ambassador Haley said, in a generation. What North Korea will make of that and whether that will tell Kim Jong Un that he needs to double down on weapons programs because the threat is grave or whether he needs to cooperate - that we don't know.
CHANG: China's foreign minister urged North Korea to try to maintain calm in spite of this U.N. vote. Is North Korea's reaction something that we need to be concerned about?
DALY: Absolutely. They're - North Korea's the place that has the weapons. China, I think, has played a very positive role in this, as has the United States. And it's been interesting in Manila that China has allowed direct reporting on its conversations with the North Korean foreign minister, which it usually doesn't do. China usually says, we'll get back to you. They'll have their conversations on the side. And then they may or may not characterize them. But the fact that China is taking a public leadership role vis-a-vis North Korea - that's an important change.
CHANG: That's actually a pivot. What can the U.S. do to try to force China's hand in this situation?
DALY: Well, we can't force China's hand. What we can do is be very vigilant about whether China actually enforces these sanctions. There's been a problem with past sanction regimes - that China either wouldn't or couldn't enforce them fully, that China has an 800-mile border with North Korea. There are a lot of companies, especially in northeastern China, that do business with North Korea in ways that China either cannot regulate or turns a blind eye to. So, really, this is a question, as Susan Thornton at the State Department has said, of our keeping pressure and keeping a watchful eye on China.
CHANG: But China's given us pushback before. I mean, China's ambassador to the U.N. criticized the U.S. for installing a missile defense system in South Korea, right? - saying that that's counterproductive.
DALY: And he said that it was counterproductive - this is Ambassador Liu - because it upsets the regional balance of power. China wants to be seen as a responsible global leader. It has been very responsible on this one. And it doesn't want Kim Jong Un to have nuclear weapons. At the same time, it does not like the North American presence in Asia. And it sees the deployment of the American anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea as the United States sort of scoring points, strengthening its alliances in the region vis-a-vis China.
China also has concerns with North Korea about humanitarian matters. And one thing we have to bear in mind is that North Korea is in the midst of its worst drought since 2001. And so one of the next shoes that could drop might be more starvation, severe hunger in North Korea this coming winter, which could change China's calculation.
CHANG: The Trump administration has been insisting at this Manila meeting that the U.S. is engaged in Asia under President Trump. Do you think that it is? I mean, Trump rejected a massive trade pact with the region right after he took office. What does all of that tell us?
DALY: Well, you're right that rejecting TPP was widely interpreted in the region...
CHANG: ...The Trans-Pacific Partnership.
DALY: The Trans-Pacific Partnership was widely interpreted as a sign that the United States was going to be pulling back to some degree - and that if that was true, then it's in the interest of regional nations to bandwagon with China, which is already their major trading partner, the largest investment region in the world. And so we've seen a movement toward China along those lines. This region is home to 60 percent of the world's population, two-thirds of global growth. If the United States does not have a very active trade economic investment program, it will not be taken seriously as a balance to China over the long term.
CHANG: And I now want to get to Tillerson's future as secretary of state. There have been reports that he's struggling to find his footing in this administration, that his relationship with President Trump is strained. What are you hearing?
DALY: Well, all of the same things that you're hearing. And there's also a concern about morale at the State Department, where there's been a threat for a 30 percent cut to budget, which Secretary Tillerson to date has not fought against. So there are a lot of concerns along these lines. He has denied that he has a poor relationship with the president. He's denied that he's planning to leave. And Secretary of State Tillerson has had a very good week. So let's see how he feels about it when he's got a little bit of wind in his sails.
CHANG: Robert Daly is director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Thank you for dropping by this morning.
DALY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.