Making good on his promise to deliver more “gifts” to the Trump administration, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un oversaw the country’s second Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) test this week. In response, President Trump tweeted that he was very “disappointed” in China for not stopping the continued North Korean aggression.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities have undergone dramatic changes in the last few years. On the Fourth of July, North Korea successfully tested its first ICBM, capable of reaching Alaska. Kim Jong-un said the launch was a Fourth of July “gift” to the Trump administration and vowed to deliver more “gifts” in the near future, mocking the United States.

Besides shoring up military presence in the Korean peninsula, President Trump has relied on China and President Xi Jinping’s assistance in restraining North Korea. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson announced last month that China has agreed to implement UN sanctions imposed on North Korea. Following their meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany, President Trump and President Xi agreed to conduct joint military exercises in the Pacific Rim in 2018.

Despite China’s cooperation thus far, the Trump administration continues to criticise them for not doing enough to stop North Korea’s aggressive posture in the region. In response to a question on North Korea, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, “We continue to have conversations with Chinese government officials at all levels, at the highest levels, and we continue to say, ‘Thanks for what you’ve done, but we expect and we want you to do a whole lot more.’”

Fed up with the US government’s demands for greater action, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesmen, Geng Shuang said, “Asking others to do work but doing nothing themselves is not okay.”

The rapidly growing North Korean nuclear and missile capabilities not only threaten the US homeland in the future but also pose a great threat to US interests in the Asia-Pacific as well as to their allies, Japan and South Korea.

While the Chinese government has shown its willingness to cooperate with the United States, yet the US believes that China could still do more. If there is space for China to do more, how could the Trump administration induce China to go that distance? The answer might be recalibrating the US policy towards India.

The existing US policy towards India has disastrous implications for China. The United States through its policy of nuclear cooperation with India over the past decade has essentially enabled India to quickly develop nuclear weapons and missiles capable of targeting all parts of the Chinese homeland.

In 2005, President Bush lifted a three-decade US ban on nuclear trade with India, paving the way for the 2008 US-India Nuclear Cooperation Deal and a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group. This deal granted India access US dual-use nuclear technology, including materials and equipment that are used to enrich uranium and reprocess plutonium, basically the material required to build nuclear bombs. US actions also made it possible for India to sign similar nuclear cooperation deals with other countries, making it possible for them to import uranium for India’s civilian reactors, freeing up their indigenous stockpile of uranium to build more nuclear weapons.

India has already developed Agni-V, an intercontinental ballistic missile capable targeting all of China, and if pointed West, parts of the United States. In the future, India plans to equip the missile with multiple nuclear warheads. According to a study published by Harvard University, the NSG waiver has enabled India to produce enough fissile material to build more than 2,500 nuclear weapons. Combined, the nuclear and missile technology poses is far more dangerous than what North Korea currently has in its pipeline.

Scholars and commentators in the West have not only accepted India’s nuclear and missile capabilities but have also encouraged it promoting the idea of balancing China’s rising power in Asia. Some have argued for “calculated altruism” for India by strengthening its strategic capabilities by relaxing export controls for the provision of dual use technologies to India because this “serves several US grand strategic designs in Asia and beyond”. As a result, currently, only 0.4% of US exports to India require an export license, down from 24% in 1999.The irony of the North Korean crisis is that while the United States is asking for assistance from China to help them restrain North Korea’s aggression towards the US and its allies, the United States, through its previous and current policies has been enabling India to be more aggressive towards China.

To many, it may seem that North Korea and India are in two separate theatres but what they fail to realise is that the affect these two countries have in the United States and China is the same. The linkages that the Chinese see between the US shoring up India’s nuclear weapon capabilities and the threat it poses to China as being directly related to the far greater threat a nuclear North Korea poses to the United States. An editorial of a leading Chinese daily laid bare China’s concerns following Agni IV’s test by India

The Trump administration must carefully consider the Chinese perspective in trying to understand what the Chinese could possibly want as an incentive from the US in order to play a greater role in curbing North Korea’s aggression. This is China’s only chance to put pressure on the US to put restrictions on India’s growing nuclear weapons and missile capabilities.

Recent border clashes between the Chinese and Indian forces in Sikkim are evidence of the ever-growing threat India poses to China. The solution to North Korea may actually lie in India rather than China. This is an avenue of discussion the Trump administration should explore with the Chinese.


n             The writer is an Assistant Professor at NUST.