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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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  • D4x

    Really good supporting links TAI, especially Bishop’s insight and the whitehouse.gov background briefing, and thanks for treating Sec Tillerson as a legitimate SecState. It appears that “speak softly and carry a big stick” is too 19th century for some.

    The knives are out over his terse 23 words, especially at the Atlantic, where Eliot A. Cohen has found a more receptive audience for his condescending smackdown of Tillerson, a smackdown without ‘airbrushing’.

  • Suzy Dixon

    It only helps the US and SKs wanting THAAD at this point. Almost like Kim works for the Pentagon.

    • Jon Robbins

      Yes, but does it help them enough? Moon Jae-in still looks like the next ROK president.

  • cyrus

    North Korean regime wouldn’t last many hours without Chinese support. President Trump should offer neutralisation of South Korea in exchange of withdrawal of this support.

    • Jon Robbins

      But he won’t because we want to be in South Korea.

  • Proud Skeptic

    I find Tillerson refreshing. Let’s see how he does in his job.

  • Pait

    Same silent treatment as Syria gets. Rex T must be really fatigued these days, not making all those statements is exhausting.

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