Going Ballistic
Tillerson Gives North Korea the Silent Treatment

North Korea conducted another missile test last night, firing off a KN-15 medium-range ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan just days ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s summit with Donald Trump. If Pyongyang hoped to set off a panic in Washington, however, they may have been disappointed by the State Department’s unusually taciturn response:

North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.

The State Department’s terse non-statement has been criticized by some as proof that Rex Tillerson, an unusually tight-lipped Secretary of State, is in over his head. We don’t agree at all. Tillerson’s approach—denying the North Koreans attention they so desperately crave, dispensing with the verbose formalities of past policy statements, and hinting that the United States has reached the limits of its patience—is the right way to go. For all the ambiguity of the statement, it sends a suitably menacing message, and is consistent with both Tillerson’s speech in Seoul and the “all options on the table” message the White House is sending ahead of the Xi-Trump summit.

China, meanwhile, is publicly downplaying the missile test, arguing that its timing has nothing to do with the upcoming summit. But that hardly passes the smell test: North Korea has long timed its nuclear provocations for maximum impact, and its latest launch constitutes an act of defiance toward Beijing as much as Washington. As wise China-watcher Bill Bishop put it, “Such a move would demonstrate so much contempt for the PRC and Xi Jinping personally that Xi would have a hard time not responding.” And if Kim launches another missile during the summit, things will get even more embarrassing for the Chinese.

More to come tomorrow at Mar-a-Lago.

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