See More on Facebook

Analysis, Opinion

Will US-China trade war hurt efforts to solve N. Korea nuclear crisis?

The growing trade discord between the US and China is fueling concerns that it may hurt efforts to rein in North Korea’s nuclear crisis.


Written by

Updated: April 6, 2018

On Tuesday, the Trump administration proposed levying 25 percent tariffs on 1,300 Chinese goods in aviation, technology and machinery sectors, which would add up to about $50 billion annually. In retaliation, China on Wednesday announced plans to impose its own 25 percent tariff on $50 billion worth of US exports including aircraft, cars and soybeans.

Earlier, China imposed levies on $3 billion worth of US fruits, nuts, pork and wine to protest the Trump administration’s move to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from China last month.

The ramped-up trade dispute comes only weeks before US President Donald Trump is set to have a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un before the end of May, which is expected to shape the fate of the Korean Peninsula.

As conflicts over bilateral trade escalate, the world’s largest economies might be tempted to use the North Korea issue to win leverage over each other, experts say.

“Conflicts on the trade front between the US and China could have a negative impact on resolving North Korea’s nuclear issue, as it could lead them to be less willing to cooperate on the security front,” said Kang Jun-young, a professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

“China could use the North Korea card during negotiations with the US, as the relations between China and the North have apparently improved,” he said. “The North Korean leader is aware of it, so he appears to be taking advantage of the competition between the US and China.”

Both the US, South Korea’s closest ally, and China, North Korea’s traditional ally, are committed to the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but they have differing positions on how to achieve the goal.

The US calls for the North to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs before any incentives such as the lifting of sanctions are considered. China, on the other hand, backs the North’s denuclearization in phases.

While South Korea remains committed to the US-led “maximum pressure” campaign against the North and complete denuclearization of the isolated country, South Korea appears to side with China in pursuing “action-for-action” phased approach for denuclearization.

China’s assistance is essential in denuclearizing the North. China is the North’s major source of hard currency, oil and aids and the biggest trading partner, accounting for more than 90 percent of trade with the isolated country.

China also has proved itself to be still a major player in matters regarding the Korean Peninsula after North Korean leader Kim met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. Their meeting dismissed China’s concerns that it is losing influence over North Korea and increasingly being sidelined in negotiations between the Koreas and the US over the North’s nuclear weapons programs.

But as for the ongoing trade dispute, the stakes are high for both the US and China, as the result of a potential trade war has massive ramifications for both Trump and Xi domestically.

Trump is facing mid-term elections in November, while Xi has just begun his second term as president with an option to rule for life and probably wants to expand his clout abroad.

“To rise as a global power, Xi tightened his grip domestically. Now, he is under pressure not to lose in the competition with the US. He can rally the Chinese people behind his leadership by fighting back against the US,” Kang said.

But even if ongoing trade skirmishes lead to an all-out trade war between the US and China, the broad agreement to hold dialogue with the North to tackle the nuclear standoff will stay valid, as denuclearization of North Korea is in both the US and China’s interests, he said.

President Trump downplayed concerns over a trade war with China, but made it clear he will not back down.

“We are not in a trade war with China, that war was lost many years ago by the foolish, or incompetent, people who represented the US,” he wrote on Twitter. “Now we have a Trade Deficit of $500 Billion a year, with Intellectual Property Theft of another $300 Billion. We cannot let this continue!”

In Trump’s mind, his “America First” policy means that he puts the revival of the US economy first before anything else. He could use the North Korea issue in his negotiations with China to extract better terms on trade, said Park Won-gon, a professor at Handong Global University.

“There is a possibility that Trump will use the North Korea card to put pressure on China to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue,” he said. “It is his typical style to push the other side into a corner to maximize his bargaining power.”

And South Korea could be stuck in the middle.

Trump’s tying of trade issues with North Korea was a warning to South Korea that it should closely coordinate with the US and stay on the same page in achieving North Korea’s denuclearization, said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

Trump said that he may hold up the free trade deal with South Korea until after an agreement is reached with North Korea over its nuclear weapons programs.

During a speech in Richfield, Ohio, he said that the revamped bilateral trade deal is “a very strong card and I want to make sure everyone is treated fairly,“ linking the trade deal with progress in denuclearizing North Korea.

The US and South Korean trade representatives have agreed US steel tariffs would not apply to South Korean firms and that South Korea would lift restrictions on US automobiles.

“South Korea should maintain a strong alliance and coordination with the US to make sure the US stays in the game without being alienated,” he said, adding that Trump does not necessarily separate security from trade and choose what works in favor of him.

But it also could be an opportunity for South Korea, he pointed out.

“When the US and China are too cooperative, it is difficult for South Korea to take a lead. I think the ongoing conflicts could be a chance for South Korea to play a mediating role between the countries to achieve the goal of the North’s denuclearization,” he said.

(This article was originally written by Ock Hyun-ju)



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


The Korea Herald
About the Author: The Korea Herald is the nation’s largest English-language daily and the country’s sole member of the Asia News Network.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Analysis, Opinion

Thais wont mobilize in protest even if junta wins elections.

Thailand’s ersatz elections will not bother most Thais even if army comes back to rule. Every country has their breaking point, where corruption, abuse and living standards reach a point where people are compelled to take to the streets and demand a change. Thailand’s breaking point appears to be much higher than most. After all, a decade of political infighting, street riots, and military crackdowns has made mass protest much less palatable for the common Thai. Despite this, the military seem to be doing their utmost to push the populace to their limit. Reports from early and overseas voters tell of an election deeply flawed with spoiled ballots, discounted votes and confusing polling procedures. Some votes have been disregarded altogether, including those that voted for the Thai Raksa Chat Party who was disqualified by the Election Commission for running a princess to be p


By Cod Satrusayang
March 20, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Japan to develop long-range standoff missile

Japan is planning on developing long range anti-ship missiles for self defense purposes. The Defense Ministry has made a policy decision to develop the nation’s first domestically manufactured air-to-ship long-range cruise missile, to be mounted on Air Self-Defense Force fighter jets and capable of attacking a warship from outside of an adversary’s range. The new missile, which is to be developed in response to the rapid advance in the strike capability of the Chinese Navy, will reinforce Japan’s deterrence by extending the shooting range to more than 400 kilometers. The ministry aims to put the new missile into practical use within a few years, government sources said. The new missile is considered to be of a “standoff defense capability,” enabling attacks from beyond the range of adversaries. Standoff defense capability was stipulated in the new Nation


By The Japan News
March 18, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Dialogue important after India-Pakistan crisis

As India and Pakistan wake up to the real possibilities of war, it is time to give dialogue another chance. Although the 2019 India-Pakistan standoff may have passed its immediate intensity, it is clear that the entire episode has left a slew of new worries for policymakers all over the world. It is crucial that lessons are learnt and crisis-handling procedures between the two countries put in place. Because there is no doubt that Pakistan and India were perilously close to war. In a digital age, resonating with the red noise of alternative facts fuelled by ultra-nationalisms, it was clear that the Modi regime’s need to bolster its flagging electoral ratings before an election took the Indian act of border incursion into Pakistan’s Ba


By Dawn
March 15, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Bumpy path ahead for denuclearization

US, DPRK made no concessions during latest Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi. A second summit between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, concluded abruptly in Vietnam a week ago, leaving researchers and diplomats with much to decipher. Nonetheless, they seem to agree that a long, bumpy road to denuclearization lies ahead. However intricate the reasons, the breakdown of the Feb 27-28 summit between US President Donald Trump and the DPRK’s top leader Kim Jong-un was widely believed to have been triggered by the differences on how far Pyongyang was willing to limit its nuclear program and the degree of Washington’s willingness to ease or even lift sanctions, Reuters reported on Wednesday. To compound the issue, Trump said on Wednesday that he would be “very disappointed” in Kim if reports about rebuilding at a rocket launch site in the DP


By China Daily
March 12, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

India-Pakistan escalation gives edge to Modi in re-election bid

We take a look at the factors that will influence the upcoming Indian elections. The adage that no Indian election is fought solely on economic issues has hit home with a vengeance across political parties as the countdown begins for the 2019 General Election in India scheduled for April-May. In the aftermath of the 14 February terrorist attack on para-military forces in Pulwama, India-administered Kashmir, which was claimed by the Jaish-e-Mohammad and New Delhi’s unleashing of airstrikes against the terror outfit’s largest training camp deep inside Pakistani territory in response, electoral strategies are hurriedly being redrawn. What seemed to have been shaping as a poll campaign around bread-and-butter issues has now been infused with a strong dose of national security. Terrorism emanating from Pakistan, relations between India’s Hindu/Indic majority and its minority communities, and var


By Asia News Network
March 12, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Time for trusting Thai junta coming to an end

After four years of military rule, the military’s credibility is at an all time low. By the time the military holds elections on March 24, Thailand will have spent 1,767 days under military rule. During that time, dissent has been suppressed, freedom of expression has eroded, the press has been attacked publicly and privately by the government and the population will not have had a single say in matters of governance. And yet a constant mantra that the military has chanted throughout that time has been the almost paternalistic “trust me.” “Trust me, I am replacing the democratically-elected government for the good of the people.” “Trust me, we need to lessen criticism of the junta for unity’s sake.” “Trust me, this constitution is necessary to have elections.” “Trust me, we will hold an election within a year.”


By Cod Satrusayang
March 7, 2019