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Editorial: Kim crosses a line

July 6, 2017

North Korea on Tuesday launched its first successful test of a missile capable of reaching the United States — a grim, earlier-than-anticipated milestone that demands an unequivocal response from the United States and the international community. President Trump, who left yesterday for a trip to Poland and the G-20 summit in Germany, should consider deleting his Twitter app while he’s abroad and knuckling down to cobble that response together.

“Global action is required to stop a global threat,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement Tuesday evening. “Any country that hosts North Korean guest workers, provides any economic or military benefits, or fails to fully implement U.N. Security Council resolutions is aiding and abetting a dangerous regime.”

He’s looking at you, China. Russia, too.

Until now the Trump administration’s response to Kim Jong Un’s provocations has been to pressure China into bringing its ally back in line. Even after news of the ICBM launch Trump said (on Twitter, naturally) that China might make a “heavy move” to tamp down North Korea’s nuclear ambitions (to “end this nonsense once and for all”). A day and a half later he appeared to give up on that idea.

“Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us — but we had to give it a try!” he wrote Wednesday morning.

Giving up on China, on the eve of the G-20 summit where he will meet with president Xi Jinping, is an odd strategy, but one that may simply reflect reality — that China simply can’t be relied on to control North Korea and its nuclear ambitions.

The obvious choices before the administration, now, remain deeply unappealing. They include further attempts at isolating the regime through sanctions (just last week the administration slapped sanctions on a Chinese bank; see Trump’s tweet about trade for the prospects of that being effective). A military strike, which would immediately imperil South Korea. Or diplomatic negotiations over disarmament (which have failed miserably in the past).

Whatever the response, it must not include rewarding North Korea’s dangerous behavior, even in the exceedingly unlikely event that Kim Jong Un pinkie-swears not to engage in any more of it. The United States is in his (no-longer-theoretical) cross hairs. We know he won’t be talked off the battlefield; the United States and its allies must find a way to force him off.

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