Joint Chiefs chairman Dunford lunches with Chinese troops in North Korea’s back yard

The Pentagon’s top general on Wednesday said he discussed with his Chinese counterparts ways to coordinate with China’s military to avoid dangerous miscalculations should war break out with North Korea.

Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the contingency talks after he paid a rare visit to the Chinese military command that oversees the North Korean border, viewing live-fire drills and sharing lunch with People’s Liberation Army troops.

He said the discussion took place on Tuesday, when he also signed an agreement with his Chinese counterpart to formalize and increase operational communication between the U.S. and Chinese militaries.

The talks indicate that alarm on both sides over the tensions surrounding North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile programs are pushing Washington and Beijing to set aside some of their mutual distrust and deepen military-to-military communication, analysts and diplomats said.

Gen. Dunford’s trip was planned long before a series of tit-for-tat threats flared in recent days between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday said tensions on the Korean Peninsula are the highest levels in decades and urged a resumption of talks.

But Beijing’s decision to proceed with the visit at a sensitive time reflects growing displeasure with Pyongyang, the analysts and diplomats said.

The visit appears to signal “shared concern with the U.S. about the growing threat from North Korea,” said Bonnie Glaser, an expert on the Chinese military at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Bottom line: The U.S. and China have much to discuss — and work out — before any preemptive strike by the Pentagon against North Korea, especially its nuclear and chemical weapons sites and depots. Thorny issues, among others, would most likely include 1) how to handle or interdict a flood of North Korean refugees; 2) securing nuclear facilities and neutralizing them without radioactive fallout that could waft into China; 3) how to resolve Chinese wariness over having a U.S. ally (and perhaps U.S. troops) on its border once the Korean peninsula has been reunified; 4) how far U.S. and South Korean troops will be permitted to advance; 5) establishment of a buffer zone between Seoul’s government and the Chinese border; etc. The fact that Gen. Dunford made this trip signifies the level of importance the Pentagon and the Trump administration have put on it; that the Chinese allowed Dunford to even make the visit to one of its military command posts is equally significant. Both sides are placing a premium on the visit, the talks, and the issues at hand. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will ignore the significance of this meeting at his peril.

The fact that Gen. Dunford, and not a flag officer of lower rank and status, made this trip signifies the level of importance the Pentagon and the Trump administration have placed on it. The fact that the Chinese agreed to the visit signifies how serious Beijing considers the situation. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ignores the significance of this meeting at his peril, for it seems to indicate unequivocally that the Trump administration is truly exploring all of its options, including the military option, as it figures out how best to deal with Pyongyang’s growing nuclear threat.

Also noteworthy: Dunford first stopped in South Korea for talks and next heads to Japan. He is meeting with top military and diplomatic officials from the triad of countries with the most at stake in resolving the North Korean threat.

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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