WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the world, led by the US and its Asian allies, has tried to confront and defuse North Korea's nuclear ambitions, the Hermit Kingdom's closest ally and the region's most powerful nation has ignored and thwarted international efforts.
"China has been part of the problem rather than part of the solution to the North Korean nuclear problem," Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow of Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation, told Business Insider.
"They have acted like North Korea's lawyer at the UN Security Council by obstructing more robust international sanctions, denying evidence of North Korean provocations, watering down stronger UN resolutions, and insisting on loopholes," Klingner added.
"China is the reason sanctions against North Korea haven't had much of an effect," Rebeccah Heinrichs, a fellow at the Hudson Institute specializing in nuclear deterrence and missile defense, told Business Insider.
While Pyongyang has been slammed with heavy sanctions, Klingner explains that the US can use "secondary sanctions to wean Chinese banks and businesses away from economically engaging with North Korea."
"US legal authorities and the centrality of the US dollar to the international financial system gives Washington tremendous leverage. The vast majority of all international financial transactions, including North Korea's, are denominated in dollars and thus must pass through a US Treasury Department-regulated bank in the United States," Klingner told Business Insider.
Meanwhile, the Hermit Kingdom's brazen missile tests continue.
So far this year, Pyongyang has conducted eight Musudan missile tests. The Musudun is speculated to have a range of approximately 1,500 to 2,400 miles, making it capable of targeting military installations in South Korea, Japan, and Guam, according to estimates from the Missile Defense Project.
All Musudan launches except the sixth one on June 22 were considered to be failures.
However, despite a string of unsuccessful tests, experts argue that several of Pyongyang's missile programs are closer than ever for deployment.
'They will get it right sooner or later, so we'd better be ready'
On October 14, at approximately 10:33 p.m. CDT, the US military detected a unsuccessful North Korean missile test near the northwestern city of Kusŏng.
While the launch of the presumed Musudun intermediate-range ballistic missile failed immediately, "it signals their continued resolve to get this right," Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Business Insider.
"They will get it right sooner or later, so we'd better be ready," Karako added.
Similarly, Heinrichs told Business Insider that North Korean "technology is steadily improving despite intermittent failed tests."
"The main take-away here is not that they are still having problems, the main take-away is that they are absolutely committed to achieving a credible nuclear missile force," Rebeccah Heinrichs, a fellow at the Hudson Institute specializing in nuclear deterrence and missile defense, told Business Insider.
What's more, China is opposed to the bilateral decision between the US and South Korea to deploy America's most advanced missile defense system to the Korean Peninsula.
Mad about THAAD
In order to counter North Korean threats and further defend the region, the US agreed to equip South Korea with a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, America's most advanced and highly mobile missile defense system.
And while negotiations to deploy THAAD to the region have been ongoing since South Korean President Park Geun-hye's October 2015 visit to the White House, North Korea's fourth nuclear bomb test on January 6 and long-range rocket launch on February 7 proved to be catalysts for the deployment.
Read more about THAAD: We spent a day with the world's most advanced missile defense system that has China spooked
China argues that since Washington agreed to equip Seoul with the unique missile-defense system, the North's missile tests have expanded and are poised to increase.
(Heritage Foundation/Amanda Macias/Business Insider)
"They've [China] aided and abetted North Korea for long enough that they have no one to blame but themselves for the missile defenses and other deployments to come," Karako told Business Insider.
And while THAAD's deployment has China peeved, Heinrichs adds that a layered ballistic missile defense system between the US, South Korea, and Japan will "provide a deterrent verse North Korea and will be help absorb an initial missile attack, should deterrence fail."
"Patriot is already deployed to South Korea and it handles the smaller, short-range missiles. THAAD, once deployed, would complement Patriot by providing an upper tier defense," Heinrichs said.
As of now, a THAAD battery is slated to be operational in South Korea by the end of 2017; however, Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said the system would be deployed "as soon as possible," Reuters reports.
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