North Korea will pose a nuclear risk to the United States within a few years and stopping the threat means realizing North Korea and Iran are two components of the same threat and getting tough on China is the key to stopping both of them.

Gordon Chang is widely seen as one the world’s leading experts on China and North Korea.  He is the author of “The Coming Collapse of China” and “Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World.”  He says this past weekend’s North Korean test of an intermediate range missile needs to be a call to awareness and to action.

“The North Koreans and the Iranians have been thick as thieves.  This is one program conducted in two separate locations.  When we add in China’s participation in this, we’ve got to look at this as a whole, not just the separate pieces,” said Chang.

Chang says no further evidence is needed than to note the Iranian missile test which made worldwide headlines last month was actually conducted with a North Korean missile.

Officially, China is condemning the latest North Korean provocation, but Chang says Beijing is is doing that largely to sooth the rest of the world.  He says China is notoriously duplicitous when it comes to North Korea.

“The Chinese have consistently been helping the North Koreans develop both nukes and long-range missiles.  We see Chinese banks involved in money laundering for North Korea and involved in North Korea’s illicit commerce.  Chinese entities have been selling things like uranium hexafluoride and components for the North’s uranium weapons program,” said Chang.

“If Beijing wanted this to stop, it would.  It hasn’t been,” added Chang, who says the Chinese are equally deceptive on the diplomatic stage.

“We see China rhetorically supporting sanctions and then turning around and busting them when the world isn’t watching.  So I don’t think the Chinese are genuine in what they say in New York (at the United Nations),” said Chang.

North Korean provocations in the past 20 years are often followed by a familiar pattern of condemnation and sanctions.  Yet, since the failure to stop North Korea’s nuclear ambitions in the 1990s, little has been effective at getting the regime to change course.

Chang says it’s time to get serious with China.

“One thing we could do is unplug Chinese financial institutions from the global system because of their participation in North Korea’s illicit commerce.  That would shock markets but we’ve got to show Beijing that we are serious,” said Chang.

While carrying economic and diplomatic challenges, Chang says the move would gut the nuclear threats emanating from both North Korea and Iran.

“It certainly would but we have not had the political will to do that.  But if some American city ends up to be a radioactive slab, it will not do for the president to say, ‘Well, I could have stopped this but I didn’t want to anger the Chinese.  We need to anger the Chinese because we need, first of all, to protect our homeland,” said Chang.

Chang says are obvious things China could do to show it was serious about stopping the North Korean nuclear program, but like other efforts, Beijing must be closely monitored.

“If we saw commerce between North Korea and China drop to zero, that would be an indication that Beijing is serious about this.  After the next to last sanctions on North Korea, which were in March of last year, there was a brief fall-off in commerce in April and May.  After that, everything went back to pre-sanction levels.  So that is a pattern,” said Chang.

Chang also advocates the financial strategy against China because it’s clear that softer diplomacy is a massive failure.

“Yes, we’ve had diplomacy intended to disarm the North Koreans but we have not seriously pursued it with the vigor that it requires.  That’s why the North Koreans now have nuclear weapons and are on the verge of being able to mate them to their longest-range launchers.  Clearly, our diplomacy over the course of decades has failed,” said Chang.

That’s right.  Chang says the North Korean missile program is making great strides in recent years, regardless of the failed tests that tend to make headlines.

“When they have a test which fails, they learn a lot, so it’s not necessarily a setback.  We know that within 3-5 years, they will be able to have an intercontinental ballistic missile which will be able to reach most of the lower 48 states, and they’ll be able to mate a nuclear weapon to that,” said Chang.

“Right now, they have the launchers.  They have the distance.  They just don’t have the ability to mate a weapon to a long-range launcher,” said Chang.