President Trump previously warned that if North Korea continued their threatening words and activities, they would be met with fire and fury. Although the North Korean regime seemed fairly inactive over the next two weeks, even leading Trump and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson to feel optimistic about the situation, that all changed late Saturday evening when North Korea conducted an underground test. Trump referred to it as a “major nuclear test,” whereas North Korea has claimed it was a hydrogen bomb. It led to an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.3.
In response to the test, Trump has pointed criticisms at South Korea and, to a lesser extent, China. South Korean President Moon Jae-in had previously spoken of having military talks with North Korea, although Trump said that talking wasn’t the answer. He doubled down on that sentiment in a tweet responding to the nuclear test, saying that appeasement will not work because North Korea only understands one thing. In another tweet, he referred to North Korea as “a rogue nation which has become a great threat and embarrassment to China.” He also mentioned that despite China trying to help, it was having little success.
From comments Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin made, it appears a new sanctions package could be the next move the United States makes. Trump left open whether the United States would attack North Korea, saying “We’ll see” when questioned about it, but he did support the idea of sanctions and is even considering stopping trade with any nations that conduct business with North Korea.
Considering China is a huge trade partner of the United States and it also trades with North Korea, it’s unlikely to see the United States follow through entirely on Trump’s threats. If it happened, it would have a massive impact on the global economy.
These criticisms also could strain relations with South Korea and China when the United States needs to work with both of them, particularly South Korea, which recently allowed the United States to set up a missile defense system there even though China opposed the idea and put economic pressure on them.
On the other hand, Trump’s high-pressure approach combined with North Korea’s latest tests could spur China into action. The country was already critical of North Korea after it sent a missile over Japan, and a nuclear test is another step in an aggressive direction.