BEIJING -- The sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan has lent further weight to the argument that Washington's current North Korea strategy is having little success in controlling the errant communist state. President Barack Obama's recent National Security Strategy was surprisingly vague on the issue, and the predictable U.S.-South Korean displays of naval strength in the aftermath of the sinking suggest no imminent policy reorientation from the White House.
This continued faith in a strategy that has shown no tangible results -- described by one analyst as the "definition of insanity" -- has been further challenged by recent indications that China's approach of economic engagement is increasing Beijing's leverage over the regime of Kim Jong-Il. The time has come for the U.S. to fundamentally rethink its North Korea policy, and the engagement model offers a clear alternative for the way forward.
Although China's policy of engagement is often portrayed by American observers as stonewalling diplomatic efforts on the peninsula, Beijing has in fact been advocating an alternative paradigm for reining in the DPRK. Since 2004, it has been attempting to increase bilateral trade and foreign direct investment (FDI), with the ultimate goal of inducing Chinese-style economic reform. The effort now seems to be yielding results.