Here’s an interesting idea put forth by The Washington Examiner’s Daily on Energy. The wild card in this second round of talks between President Trump and Kim Jung Un is coal. North Korea’s coal exports to China, in other words.
Apparently, UN sanctions have worked because China has complied with America’s demand that they stop buying DPRK coal. And, of course, Trump has reportedly just recently extended the deadline for the scheduled tariff increases on a wide range of Chinese imports, thereby apparently delaying a damaging trade war as negotiations with Xi’s regime continue.
Here’s what Daily on Energy’s John Siciliano and Josh Siegel write:
North Korea’s economy depends on coal exports, but crippling United Nations sanctions have cut back its shipments to China — its largest buyer — to zero.
That means that Trump has the option of a concession related to coal in reaching a deal with North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions.
If Kim Jung Un renounces his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, he will get his coal trade back with China and perhaps some exchange of expertise between the U.S. Energy Department and Pyongyang.
Trump could also look to patch up the country’s ailing electricity grid through this exchange or facilitate discussions with American engineering and electricity firms to help rebuild its grid.
The Energy Department has been promoting U.S. energy expertise abroad as part of Trump’s energy dominance agenda while also touting natural gas exports to countries throughout Asia.
As well, it seems U.S. exports of coal to China have soared since the crippling sanctions kicked in, so China hasn’t had to go without the fuel for one of its main sources of electricity, coal-fired power plants.
That means that places like West Virginia seem to have been eating Kim’s lunch. And now Trump has a carrot to dangle before Kim’s power-hungry eyes.
You give up nuclear weapons, you get your coal exports to China back, and we might even help you with your electricity grid, although one would suspect the South Koreans have wanted that piece of action for a few decades now.
The other interesting part to this speculation is how China would react to such tactics by America because if South Korea has an interest in any rebuilding of North Korea if a peace treaty is ever signed, one can imagine China’s interest is as great in maintaining North Korea as a client state and a junior member of their silk road scheme.
The odds of this working out are not overwhelming, unfortunately, precisely because such a plan’s success depends on people like Kim Jong Un and President Xi, one of whom is a crazed communist autocrat, the other a ruthless communist leader.
Trump – as Victor Davis Hanson writes in National Review – was the one whose relentless attacks on China over the past couple of years have actually caused a real China pivot among the foreign policy establishment towards recognizing the dangers of Xi’s regime and its ambitions, even as Trump tries to improvise and keep things on a personal level, often undermining his very own political instincts on the threat China is to America and the West.
Will Trump prove to be the blunt truth-teller on North Korea? Right now, that seems a stretch because the Kim's regime has sunk every American and Western ambition of sealing some sort of peace deal or neutralizing its aggressive and dangerous military projects.
Once again, Trump has the chance to prove his critics and doubters wrong on North Korea. Perhaps a tactic of using coal as a bargaining chip with both China and North Korea could work.
There are plenty of reasons why it might not, however. As Democrats turn up the volume on the impeach-Trump show, it would be wise to keep an eye on the meetings in Asia this week.