Headline: “America’s Mixed Messages Over North Korea … ‘U.S. Risk’ Adds to North’s Nuclear Threat, China”
Byline: Jŏng Si-Haeng on Oct. 2, 2017 [LINK]
“Different messages are coming out of the United States over negotiations about North Korea’s nuclear program from the top commander-in-chief and the State Department secretary who is in charge of foreign policy toward North Korea. At a time when the U.S. and South Korea should be in close cooperation on North Korea policy, it’s causing great confusion. Amid the North Korean nuclear crisis, now added in the mix is what some are calling ‘U.S. risk.’”
“President Donald Trump on Oct. 1 (local time) posted on Twitter, ‘Attempting to negotiate with North Korea is a waste of time,’ and, ‘Being nice to Rocket Man (North Korea policy) hasn’t worked for 25 years, why would it all of a sudden work now?’”¹
“This comes just after the day before, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, ‘There are two, three channels of dialogue with North Korea.’ The comments are being interpreted as a repudiation from the highest levels of the idea of holding, for the first time, direct negotiations with North Korea. It’s saying ‘Amid sanctions and pressure on North Korea, don’t break ranks with talk about dialogue.’ Trump said, ’Secretary Tillerson, save your energy, we’ll do what we have to do (sanctions).’”
“… Some are analyzing [Trump’s tweets] as the U.S. purposefully conveying a mix of hopefulness and skepticism about North Korea, for strategic reasons. In this view, the tweets are intended to ensure that Secretary Tillerson’s comment didn’t signal to North Korea and China that sanctions could possibly be weakened. Especially for Trump, ‘the master of negotiation,’ some interpret this as taking a carrot-and-stick approach — holding open the door to negotiating with North Korea, while maintaining the international justification for taking emergency military action and other steps against North Korea so that it doesn’t feel too ‘reassured.’”
Why it’s Interesting:
The Chosun Ilbo is South Korea’s widest-circulated daily, and is also traditionally a conservative paper. It’s coverage has generally been favorable toward politicians like former presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak who were hardliners on North Korea and pursued a strong military alliance with the United States.
The article is interesting for a few reasons. First, although presented as a straight news story, it takes a pretty clear position that Trump is muddying the waters at a time when some clarity is needed, and creating yet another layer of geopolitical risk. That’s probably obvious to a lot of people by now. But the Chosun comes right out and says it.
Second, the article interprets a part of one of Trump’s tweets that was probably left purposefully vague. Trump wrote, “…Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!” The article, in parentheses, says that Trump is referring to “sanctions” (제재). But I, at least, read “what has to be done” as referring to military action — another example of Trump’s brazen and foolhardy saber-rattling about North Korea. Interpreting it as “sanctions” arguably downplays just how much Trump is overriding Tillerson’s attempt at diplomacy.
It also strikes me just how much the article is trying to analyze and read into Trump’s tweets. It seems to presume that there’s some level of strategic thinking behind them, or anything more beyond just big-talking red meat for his political base. With this president, I just don’t think that assumption can be made.
- 엇갈린 메세지 — mixed messages
- 혼란 — confusion, disorder
- 공조 — mutual assistance, cooperation
- “협상의 달인” — master of negotiation
- 강온 — toughness and moderateness, carrot-and-stick
- The Risk of Nuclear War with North Korea. Evan Osnos, The New Yorker.
- While the U.S. Talks of War, South Korea Shudders. Hang Kang, The New York Times.
¹ Instead of using the actual language of Trump’s tweets, I retranslated from the Korean back into English, in an attempt to convey how they would have been understood by readers of the original article.