A fierce debate is raging in China over the best policy for dealing with North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Recent rhetoric between U.S.President DonaldTrump and North Korean leaderKim Jung-un, in which both men publicly attacked and shamed each other, has further complicated and added urgency to that debate. In this podcast, Paul Haenle spoke with Dr. Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor at the School of International Studies and Deputy Director of Center for China’s International Strategic Studies at Renmin University of China, to discuss the internal debate on China’s North Korea policy and understand the implications of Trump and Kim Jung-un’s heated rhetoric.

Exchanges between President Trump and Kim Jung-un are counterproductive and have significant policy ramifications, Cheng said. No issue has divided China like North Korea’s missile and nuclear development, and Beijing must think hard about whether North Korea now poses a direct threat to China’s national interests. More and more, Chinese are realizing North Korea’s nuclear program is harming China and widerAsia’s security and stability. Since Kim Jung-un came to power, the relationship has entered a period of abnormal relations marked by a decline in economic ties and lack of political solidarity, Cheng added. He agreed with Haenle that despite the high level of frustration among Chinese policymakers over North Korea,  China has not yet reached the point of fundamentally changing its policy. Instead, Cheng said China has continued to take incremental steps in applying pressure on North Korea through the UN Security Council. As Pyongyang enters the final stage of its “nuclear and missile games,” Cheng proposed that the United States and China continue to engage in coercive diplomacy as well as open up new and innovative channels of communication in order to enhance the chances of finding a peaceful resolution for the Korean Peninsula.