Warmbier’s death tests Trump’s NK policy

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/20 23:33:39

Otto Warmbier, an American college student who was released by North Korea in a coma last week, died on Monday. According to US media, Warmbier had been in a vegetative state for a long time. He was detained by North Korea during a trip in January 2016 and sentenced to 15 years' hard labor for subversive activities. He confessed on North Korean state TV that he had tried to steal a propaganda poster from a hotel.

Pyongyang suggested that Warmbier was comatose after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill, multiple Western media outlets reported. But Warmbier's parents and the US public believe he was abused in North Korean custody. Although there is no definite medical conclusion about what caused his death, the US side appears very agitated.

Many think the issue will exert a great impact on Washington's attitude toward Pyongyang. For one thing, the enraged US public will limit the Trump administration's room to maneuver over the North Korean issue, forcing it to get tougher on Pyongyang. For another, the Trump administration will lose patience to engage with Pyongyang, and will likely apply maximum pressure on the regime. 

US-North Korean official contact is in a stalemate due to the great disparity in both sides' attitudes, and there is no sign of a breakthrough. Warmbier's death has made it worse and it's uncertain whether the official engagement could be continued as a signal of détente in bilateral relations.

Beijing must be wary that Warmbier's death may propel Washington to impose greater pressure on Beijing.  As the first China-US Diplomatic and Security Dialogue (DSD) convenes in Washington on Wednesday, the US side may leverage the incident and force China to make more commitments on the North Korea nuclear issue.

The North Korean nuclear issue is complicated. Hoping to cut the tangled knots in an instant and expecting China to do what the US is supposed to do is unrealistic. If the US system fails to address this complicated issue, conflict may tragically break out on the Korean Peninsula.

China has made the utmost efforts to help break the stalemate in the North Korean nuclear issue. But by no means will China, nor will Chinese society permit it to, act as a "US ally" in pressuring North Korea. If Washington decides to impose third-party sanctions on several Chinese enterprises, it will lead to grave friction between China and the US over the Korean Peninsula issue. 

A plan built on accumulated consensuses between China and the US can propel the stalemate moving forward. It is more realistic than expecting a policy change can bring about a fundamental change.

We hope the DSD is not just empty talk or a place for quarrels. When it's over, China and the US should have built more consensus and have a clearer and more feasible view to solve the North Korea nuclear issue.

Posted in: EDITORIAL

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