Xi Jinping VCG/Getty Images

A ‘China First’ Strategy for North Korea

Donald Trump has chided China for failing to take responsibility for its dangerous neighbor. But America's president should be careful what he tweets for: If China launched a military invasion of North Korea, it could work – and China would gain greater strategic parity with the US in East Asia.

LONDON – Most pundits agree that the least bad way to deal with North Korea’s nuclear saber rattling is a continued combination of tight containment and aggressive diplomacy. Fewer, however, have recognized that the least bad military option – the one implied by US President Donald Trump’s insistence that China take responsibility for its dangerous neighbor – is a Chinese invasion, or regime change forced through China’s threat to launch one.

This outcome, which would sharply shift East Asia’s strategic balance in China’s favor, is not as unlikely as most people think. In fact, its very plausibility is one reason why it needs to be taken seriously, including by Chinese military planners. In Trumpian terms, this is a “China First” option that could help “Make China Great Again.”

Any military intervention, Chinese or otherwise, would carry huge risks. But before dwelling on them, consider what a successful Chinese intervention would achieve. For starters, it would put North Korea right where the country’s post-Korean War history suggests it belongs: under a Chinese nuclear umbrella, benefiting from a credible security guarantee.

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