President Trump has made a big deal since his election about his new relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, insisting Beijing is “working very hard” to pressure North Korea since the two leaders’ meetings at Mar-a-Lago earlier in the year. Mr. Trump seems to be combining China’s newfound sympathy to the U.S. position with a “big stick” — three U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups, which rotate off the North Korean coast.
While it remains to be seen if the strategy will work in the long run, in the short term, the results are hard to see. North Korea continues to carry out missile tests weekly and is not backing down from its confrontational behavior.
China is North Korea’s biggest trade partner, but what often gets overlooked is the double game Russia is playing in the crisis. Under Stalin, the Soviet Union was the creator of the hermit regime on the northern end of the Korean peninsula. Today, Russia under Vladimir Putin seems to be trying to have it both ways as the rest of the international community tries to end the Pyongyang nightmare.
The Russian Federation went along with recent U.N. sanctions, which further isolated North Korea economically. However, as China publicly reduced its coal exports to the North, Russia has been quietly filling the gap. According to the Russian state-owned international news agency Sputnik, trade between North Korea and Moscow has increased 73 percent in the first two months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016.