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North Korea Tests U.S. Patience With Latest Missile Launch


Another weapons test from North Korea, another emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, and more tough talk from the U.S. and its allies.


NIKKI HALEY: His abusive use of missiles and his nuclear threats show that he is begging for war. War is never something the United States wants. We don't want it now, but our country's patience is not unlimited.

MARTIN: That was Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., speaking yesterday in response to Kim Jong Un's nuclear test over the weekend. On Sunday, President Trump said that the U.S. could consider stopping all trade with countries that do business with North Korea, which is a not-so-subtle message to China. For more, we turn now to Max Baucus. He served as U.S. ambassador to China under President Obama.

Thank you so much for being in here this morning.

MAX BAUCUS: You bet, Rachel.

MARTIN: Do you think threatening to cut off U.S. trade with China as a way to force their hand on the North Korean issue - do you think that's a good idea?

BAUCUS: No, I don't. I think it's bluster, frankly. And that's the problem here. We don't know when the president is serious and when he's not serious. My judgment on that is, I don't know that he knows himself. He uses different tactics. He says different things, different times. But it's not helpful.

MARTIN: I want to get back to how you see the administration's strategy in all this in a moment. But on the China issue and how they see this - China, clearly, in this moment, is viewing North Korea's new aggression as a threat. Why doesn't China just cut off ties - trade ties, in particular - with North Korea? This isn't just the U.S. and Donald Trump floating this. Other allies have suggested that China needs to get tougher on North Korea, especially on the trade issue. Why don't they do that?

BAUCUS: China is neuralgic about stability. The Communist Party will do whatever it can to maintain stability in China and the region because if the country is stable, then its people are happy, and then that means the party can maintain its legitimacy...

MARTIN: Even if that stability includes keeping North Korea as a nuclear power?

BAUCUS: I think China has decided that the status quo it currently - is preferable. That is, if China does cut off all economic trade with China, China will probably implode.

MARTIN: With North Korea, yeah...

BAUCUS: With North Korea - excuse me, with China, as with North Korea - implode - and who knows what might happen next? Kim Jong Un might get - might fall. Who knows what happens after that? Refugees might - could be coming - flooding over into China. U.S. might, along with South Korea, start to take control - and north of the peninsula. China does not want that. That's - first of all, that's instability. Second, it's United States and South Korea on China's door.

MARTIN: So then how is the U.S. supposed to get China to move the needle? I mean, if China insists on the status quo, and the U.S. says this is anything but, this is - we have to take action...

BAUCUS: I think we've taken a couple of wrong approaches. One is, we - in the past, we've been asking China to do us a favor. China's not going do us a favor. No countries do any countries favor. Every country acts - operates in its own self-interest.

We say, China, do this for us, put pressure on Kim Jong Un for us. We'd ask him to do a favor. China's not going to do a favor to us. Second, we sometimes call China names. We threaten trade sanctions. Yeah, that's not very helpful. Rather, we have - I think start working with China to try to find a solution.

MARTIN: Well, so what does that look like? I mean, what in the world could be tried now that hasn't been tried before?

BAUCUS: Well, we can cooperate with China. So far, we've not been cooperating with China. We've treated China as, if not an adversary, but at least, certainly, not a friend. When I was serving as ambassador, many times and states would come over and talk to leadership in China, trying to ask - asking the Chinese leadership, put pressure on Kim. They were very superficial requests by the United States. We had - really, frankly, did no - not know what we were doing. We have to get lot more substantive and think more about the endgame. What do we want to - the endgame to be with China?

MARTIN: And as you see it now, Nikki Haley said the North is begging for war. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis says that the U.S. will have to issue a military response. Is the Trump administration running the risk of sending empty threats when the North continues to...

BAUCUS: Oh, yes, no question, absolutely. I don't think North Korea's begging for war. I don't agree with that. It is an empty threat.

MARTIN: We'll have to leave it there. Former U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus, thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.