Grand bargain with China over North Korea would make U.S. a paper tiger

As frustrating as it may seem, our long-standing strategy of containment and deterrence toward North Korea remains our best hope.

With North Korea’s latest test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, one apparently capable of reaching the U.S. West Coast, the American foreign policy community is struggling to find a way — short of war — to end the threat from Pyongyang. In the media and behind closed doors, some are suggesting that the U.S. should approach China for a grand bargain.

The idea is deceptively simple: China would intervene in North Korea, most likely by removing Kim Jong Un from power and installing a puppet in his place. In return, the U.S. would withdraw or significantly reduce our forces in South Korea and potentially forces farther afield in Asia.

This may sound like an effective, realpolitik means of breaking a decades-long stalemate. After all, American presidents have been saying for years that China is the key to solving the North Korea puzzle. Such a pact would force Beijing into taking action rather than offering platitudes. It would also end the charade of American sanctions, which are regularly watered down or undercut by China and Russia. Most of all, it would rid the world of Kim — a brutal, dangerous despot — and end his family’s absolute rule.

But in reality, a grand bargain with China is likely to destroy America’s global influence, making it impossible for Washington to maintain stability in strategic areas, particularly in Asia and Europe. Indeed, merely proposing an agreement of this sort would make the U.S. into a paper tiger and compromise American credibility in Asia and around the world.

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A grand bargain would effectively transfer America’s dominance to China. No matter how the White House spun such a deal, world leaders would infer that the U.S. had gone hat in hand to China. Recognizing China as the true foreign power on the peninsula, South Korea and other Asian nations would tilt inevitably toward Beijing. It’s also possible that South Korea and Japan, among other countries, would decide that they had no choice but to develop nuclear weapons for their own national defense.

Moreover, having seen the U.S. kowtow, Beijing would likely take a more assertive posture in the South China Sea and push Washington further, demanding a more comprehensive drawdown of American military forces from East Asia….

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