North Korea has no intention of ending its nuclear ambitions and China won’t allow the peninsula to fall into chaos, two factors that may force the U.S to accept the north as a nuclear power, the former U.S. ambassador to China said this week.
Instead of Twitter battles and name-calling, Max Baucus said, the United States should focus its energy on bringing Kim Jon Un onto the international stage. It’s not a popular option, he said, though it may be among the only options open to the Trump administration.
“To some degree, the U.S. has to get real, sit down and talk with China, Japan and South Korea, and try to figure out a way — it’s going to be very difficult — where Kim is given assurance that we’re not going to topple his regime,” Baucus said. “He’ll probably become a nuclear state, but he’s got to be brought into the world community.”
In an interview with the Missoula Current on Monday, Baucus, the former U.S. ambassador to China and the longest-serving U.S. senator in Montana history, said tensions between the United States and North Korea are nothing like he’s ever seen in his 40-plus years of public service.
Over the past few months, those tensions have escalated as Trump and Kim engage in Twitter wars, with the U.S. president calling Kim “little rocket man” and tweeting that he “won’t be around much longer.”
In return, Kim has described Trump as a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” whom he would tame with fire. “Lunatic Trump is running headlong into ruin, taking America with him, and the poor puppet forces are following him, at the peril of their lives,” the Kim regime said more recently.
Baucus said Trump is playing into Kim’s plan by engaging in such rhetoric.
“The rhetoric is inadvisable and it’s not very healthy, and it makes things more difficult,” Baucus said. “That’s Kim’s game plan and that’s what he’s trying to do, and it will create many difficult questions.”
Both Trump and Kim have squared off in what Newsweek on Monday labeled “an ever-escalating battle of words describing devastation of biblical proportions on the other’s country.”
Kim believes Trump has already issued a declaration of war against North Korea, though Congress has issued no such declaration. It’s the role of Congress — not the president — to do so.
While a U.S. war with North Korea remains possible, Baucus said, it’s unlikely.
“The probability is not high — it’s significant, but it’s not high,” Baucus said. “It would be so cataclysmic and Kim wouldn’t survive, so what’s the point. But I think President Trump raises the heat because that’s the way he has negotiated as a private businessman – punch his opponent hard to get an advantage. But that doesn’t work in relationships between governments.”
Over the course of several presidencies, the United States has relied on sanctions in an effort to bring North Korea to the table and end its race to develop nuclear weapons. Those efforts have failed, leading many to suggest the United States needs to take a new approach.
Baucus believes direct dialogue remains one of the only plausible solutions.
“There’s no durable solution without including China — China has to be included,” Baucus said. “They’re not going to stand idly by if the peninsula becomes destabilized because of American preemption or if Kim loses his power.
“When Trump is on his Asian tour next month, he should sit down with (Chinese) President Xi Jinping and talk to him in an honest, conversational way — a sincere way — and address North Korea as a mutual problem.”
This article originally appeared on Missoula Current, an independent online newspaper, of which Martin Kidston is the founding editor.