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China has the leverage to deal with North Korea, but will they use it?

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China has the leverage to deal with North Korea, but will they use it?

WATCH | The U.S. is flexing its muscle in response to North Korean aggression. Trump has sent a military submarine and a U.S. aircraft to the peninsula. He's met with world leaders the Senate to the White House for a briefing on the threat. But in this game of brinkmanship, it's all about China. 

Calling in the Senate 

President Trump has invited all 100 U.S. senators to a briefing on Wednesday on the situation in North Korea. 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats will all be there to lead the briefing. 

It's extremely rare for all 100 U.S. senators to be invited to a briefing at once. 

It's likely the senators will discuss new sanctions and strategic efforts to bring Pyongyang to heel, but the unusual summit is also a show of strength. 

"I’m sure it’s a briefing, you know giving us a briefing on the current threat assessment but I also think it’s just to make sure that the folks in North Korea know that Congress is engaged with the White House and we both recognize the threat," said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina).

"China, China, China" 

When asked Tuesday about the best way to deal with North Korea, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the head of the powerful Senate Armed Forces Committee repeatedly said China was the key and the U.S. should do more to force them to play along. 

"Tell the Chinese that it is a vital national security issue for the United States of America, and if they fail to act that will have a significant affect on our relationship. That's how you do these things," McCain said. 


China's leverage 

China has a strong hold over North Korea's economy. China is North Korea's largest trade partner and provides the lions share of its food, fuel and industrial machinery. 

The U.S. has long pushed Beijing to use its trade power to strong arm Pyongyang into dismantling its nuclear and ballistic weapons programs. 

Earlier this year, China began turning away coal shipments from North Korea and cut off gasoline and fuel deliveries in response to Pyongyang's missile tests.

Will they go all the way?

Experts say it's unlikely China will cut off North Korea completely. 

"I think there are going to be limits to what they [China] are going to do. Their biggest fear is destabilizing the peninsula," Kelly Magsamen, former principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs told senators Tuesday. 

Cutting off North Korea could spark an economic collapse that could lead to a major refugee crisis on China's border. 

There's no guarantee North Korea would give up its missile programs, even if they feel into an economic crisis. 

But the Chinese threat could at least get Pyongyang to play ball. 

"I think what Chinese pressure can do is force the North Koreans back to the negotiating table," Victor Cha, senior adviser and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told the Armed Services Committee Tuesday. 

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