White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday the US will "continue the maximum pressure campaign" against North Korea until it takes "concrete actions" toward complete and total denuclearization. She also emphasized that the US was "not naive in this process."
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Donald Trump administration will urge North Korea to act quickly to dismantle its nuclear arsenal by taking a "big bang" approach, "in which major concessions would be made by each side early on." It was also reported that Trump would demand North Korea denuclearize in six months or one year.
Quick nuclear abandonment by Pyongyang is certainly a welcome thing. But such a sharp change could take place only if the US offers Pyongyang attractive rewards. Given the absence of strategic mutual trust between Washington and Pyongyang, few are optimistic the two can reach such an agreement swiftly.
Washington may still hope maximum pressure can bring magical results. It doubts North Korea's sincerity, but whether Washington is sincere or not is also a problem. North Korea's halting of nuclear and missile testing is of little value to the US as it regards denuclearization as the most important. But it's different for China and South Korea. The ultimate goal of the two countries is also North Korea's denuclearization, but they oppose achieving that goal at any cost including a military showdown.
China takes a clear stance over the denuclearization of the peninsula and a firm attitude in maintaining peace. North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear test site poses a long-term threat of nuclear leakage to Northeast China's security. It's of substantive significance for China that Pyongyang halted nuclear tests and closed up its test site, which also means substantial progress for South Korea.
Given the information released by the US, the peninsula still faces enormous uncertainty. It's hoped the US and North Korea can follow certain principles and not cross the bottom line.
First, Washington shouldn't set preconditions for engagement and negotiations with Pyongyang. Second, Pyongyang should keep its commitment to no longer test nuclear weapons or medium- and long-range missiles. Under no circumstances should resuming these tests be used as a bargaining chip by Pyongyang to pressure Washington and Seoul. Third, the US should stop threatening Pyongyang with military strikes and exclude the military option.
US-North Korea engagement and negotiations are an important way to improve the peninsula situation. Despite huge differences between the two sides, as long as North Korea does not resume nuclear and missile tests and the US doesn't take military action, the peninsula issue won't spiral out of control.
South Korea and China should push Pyongyang to move toward denuclearization while at the same time pressure Washington, preventing the latter messing up the peninsula issue. Washington should respect the views of countries on or surrounding the peninsula regarding how to solve the North Korea nuclear issue and achieve a permanent peace. It shouldn't take radical measures that would jeopardize the security of the region or let other relevant parties pay the price for its own miscalculations.