North Korea. The dead horse every Colgate-smile wearing pundit keeps beating. With negotiations between America and the world’s most famous police state coming up in May, the coverage surrounding the issue is ratcheting up to a fever-pitch. Hour-by-hour, perspective gets lost in the noise. North Korea’s nuclear program threatens national security, but presents a strategic opportunity. U.S. foreign policy in Asia centers around an increasingly assertive China and a hostile North Korea. If America negotiates with Kim the right way, it will be well-equipped to deal with China. That should be the primary goal.
Ignoring the Trump administration’s trade war rhetoric, China endangers U.S. interests. In the Asia-Pacific, those interests are economic and multilateral. Asia houses the world’s fastest growing economies and vital trade routes. India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Laos will all exceed 6 percent growth rates this year alone. Furthermore, almost half of global seaborne trade passes through the Strait of Malacca, right between the Malaysian peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Aggressive activities in the South and East China seas menace these trade corridors. Island-building and naval expansion intimidate smaller countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Japan. Should Xi Jinping achieve control of the Senkaku Island Chain in the East China Sea, Taiwan would be threatened and China’s regional presence expanded. Additionally, China seeks to fracture American alliances. Its creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in 2013 notably excluded the U.S., yet included fifty-seven other countries such as the UK, France, Germany, Australia and Canada (. Coming to terms with the rise of China must be the long-term goal of the White House. For now, North Korea can check China in the Asia-Pacific.
Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear program continues to improve daily. The past decade exemplifies the failure of America to end nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula. Frankly, none of that matters anymore. Anchors predicting the outcome of negotiations merely shoot in the dark. Unprecedented and unpredictable best describe the coming talks. However, American demands clash directly with those of North Korea. President Trump seeks total nuclear disarmament, while Kim seeks a withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea and an end to guarantees of U.S. intervention in any conflict. Oddly enough, China’s desires straddle the negotiating table. It too seeks an American military drawdown, largely in order to consolidate its regional authority. But an unstable nuclear power 600 miles east of Beijing risks too much. The meeting between Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-Un two weeks ago likely reaffirmed their joint commitment to reducing U.S. force deployment. Here’s an idea. Why not play along?
America can disband its military presence in South Korea. In fact, it should. U.S. troops remain stationed in Japan and the Philippines, while covert centers operate in Thailand. Just look at a map. The geographic position of American forces effectively boxes in any attempted Chinese expansion, while ensuring that the U.S. Air Force and Navy can respond within minutes to protect South Korea. If protecting South Korea is the real goal, rest assured. American bombers and destroyers are still nearby.
Removing U.S. troops might just bait China into showing its hand. More than anything else, the decline of U.S. leadership in the world enables China’s rise. A diplomatic masterstroke resolving a nuclear threat to the world rebalances the equation. Should China use America’s military absence in South Korea as a pretext for proxy interference in the area, its true objectives will be revealed. More island-building or more naval exercises would inflame tensions with any number of countries, including India, Vietnam, Malaysia and Japan–the future engines of the world economy. Talk about a Pivot to Asia. America could use potential Chinese aggression to reunite its estranged allies behind the goal of containing Beijing’s expansionist tendencies. That’s an immense diplomatic triumph. And if Xi Jinping does nothing? Well, no harm no foul. The U.S. has the chance to reclaim its mantle of diplomatic foresight and leadership. In doing so, it could position itself at the head of a coalition designed to counter China’s rising hegemony. It’s a huge risk, sure. But it’s one worth taking.
Shankara Narayana is a contributor for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .