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

Swift assistance needed to rehabilitate Hokkaido’s quake-stricken industries

To realize Hokkaido’s post-quake rehabilitation, it is indispensable to rebuild its industries. A half month has passed since the Hokkaido earthquake, which registered the highest level on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7. A power blackout that spread to all parts of the prefecture has been resolved. The No. 1 unit at the Tomato-Atsuma thermal power plant — a facility that plays a central role in the supply of electricity there — has been brought back on line. The government has withdrawn its request for power-saving, and neon lighting has returned to flourishing areas in Sapporo. However, scars from the earthquake have not yet healed. Even if the amount of direct damage, including that caused to roads, rivers and forest land, is calculated alone, the figure exceeds ¥150 billion. There are still many disaster victims in evacuation centers. T


By The Japan News
September 25, 2018

Analysis, Opinion

Maldives strongman Abdulla Yameen in shock election defeat

The Maldivian election was watched closely as an indicator of China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean region. Maldives strongman Abdulla Yameen’s hopes for a second presidential term were dashed on September 24 with opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih defeating him in the country’s elections. After a months-long sweeping crackdown on the opposition and a brief state of emergency imposed by the autocratic Yameen, the election on September 23 was preceded by a bitter campaign during which opposition leaders frequently accused the ruling regime of rights abuses and oppression. Several independent news websites reported that after the counting of a majority of the votes, Solih had won more than 58 per cent of the votes to 41 per cent for Yameen. Hours after the emergence of the informal results, Yameen conceded defeat to Solih during a televised news conference, saying: “Mal


By Lamat R Hasan
September 25, 2018

Analysis, Opinion

Thai seafood giant to address slavery issues at UN

Thailand’s progress in promoting human rights in the fishing industry will be addressed in a panel session on modern slavery and human trafficking at the United Nations General Assembly by seafood giants Thai Union. Darian McBain, global director of sustainability for the Thai Union Group, will address the panel on the topic of “Stepping up Action to End Forced Labour, Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking”. “Thailand has made a number of advances on human rights, which should be commended, but there is more work to be done and I believe Thailand has the opportunity b


By The Nation (Thailand)
September 24, 2018

Analysis, Opinion

Opinion: One Belt, One Road: We must secure our interest

Shah Husain Imam argues in the Daily Star that Bangladesh must put its interests first in joining China’s One Belt, One Road initiative. The ancient Silk Road, of which the Belt and Road Initiative is a gigantic new avatar, dates back to the Chinese Han Dynasty’s westward expansion more than 2100 years ago. The Road derived its name from the lucrative silk trade along the routes through which it branched into what are today the central Asian countries Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, as well as present-day Pakistan and India to the south. These routes eventually spanned 4,000 miles to Europe. Interestingly, silk was regarded as more precious than gold as a commodity in those times as if to convey the misty romanticism with the old world charm about a fine fabric. At any rate, the Silk Road by no means offered silken smooth passage to travellers like Marco P


By Daily Star
September 21, 2018

Analysis, Opinion

A land with no smiles

The Thai middle class’ Faustian bargain with the military is hampering true democracy in the country. Almost ten years ago, I met a protester on the streets of Bangkok. It was a time of protest and political instability with the drama between the government and protesters spilling out onto the streets. To protect his identity against possible military reprisal, let us call him Nadech. Nadech will unlikely be recorded in history books, he was not a political leader, nor a despotic general or any other archetype of Thai history. He was a simple junk-store hawker, an occupation that involves going from house to house and sorting garbage to sell. His family had done well enough through grit and hard work to open a small convenience store in his home province. Nadech had taken to the streets in 2010 because he had believed the promises that exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had made and had seen, fi


By Cod Satrusayang
September 21, 2018

Analysis, Opinion

The aftermath of super-Typhoon Mangkhut

Typhoon Mangkhut, which swept through the Philippines, Hong Kong and Southern China over the weekend will go down on history as one of the regions most powerful storms in years. The Philippines In the Philippines, the aftermath of the storm which locally bore the name “Ompong” has been devastating. More than half a million people have been impacted and the latest death toll shows that the typhoon claimed the lives of at least 74 people and injured 74 more. As many as 55 people are still missing. The majority of those casualties are related to the dozens of landslides that tore through the Cordillera Administrative Region, a gold-mining zone. The search effort for those who are still missing has been slow-going. Major roads were rendered impassable, making heavy e


By Quinn Libson
September 19, 2018