What Should China and the US Do About North Korea?

March 30, 2017
Joshua Pollack

This article originally appeared in The Diplomat on March 17, 2016.

With Trump taking control of the White House, the North Korean nuclear game has entered another round. On the U.S. side, the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” policy is recognized as unsuccessful, but Trump seems not to have better a path toward the same goal. As for North Korea, although the DPRK has achieved a series of breakthroughs in nuclear and missile technology over the past decade, since the Six Party Talks were discontinued, its strategic situation is getting worse. In particular, Pyongyang has suffered under the most severe UN sanctions in history for almost a year. It is hard to claim that North Korea is not hurried and anxious.

North Korean Flags in Pyongyang

North Korean Flags in Pyongyang
Source: Flickr

Therefore, the present environment provides a good opportunity for both the DPRK and the United States to reconsider their policies and strategies. Both countries shall take care not to miss the change. Since neither side has the ability and willingness to win by force or coercion, dialogue is undoubtedly the best option. The problem is under what conditions to reopen dialogue.


The Trump administration comes along late in the game. But if it is willing to try its hand, it will have some distinct advantages over its predecessors. These include the ability to speak with a single voice in dealing with the North Koreans (unlike Bush) and the ability to keep Congress on its side through a difficult process (unlike Obama or Clinton). If it plays to these strengths, the administration’s success is still far from assured, but it has a shot. If nothing else, the mistakes it makes can be purely its own.

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