“I think China, to use an undiplomatic word, is getting more and more pissed off with North Korea,” McCallum, who took over Canada’s diplomatic post in the country after nearly two decades in Parliament, told CTV’s Question Period. “They seem to be goading their only friend, so China is doing more to implement the sanctions than it had before.”
But China, McCallum said, has no interest in seeing a regime change in North Korea -- something that could potentially bring hordes of North Korean refugees to its borders. North Korea, he added, will also never willingly give up its growing nuclear arsenal.
“I'm not a fan of Vladimir Putin,” McCallum said, “but I think he got it right when he said that North Korea would rather eat grass than lose its nuclear weapons. I think they see this as existential to them.”
On their own, sanctions will also likely fail to diffuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula, McCallum said. He firmly believes that there needs to be a diplomatic solution.
“I think you have to get the parties to the table,” he said. “But the challenge is to decide what would be on the menu at the table and whether there's any menu that would be remotely feasible for both the United States and North Korea."
That, he added, is where Canada could potentially play a role as “an honest broker.”
“Canada stands ready should it be useful for us to help to broker a peace,” he said. "If there was anything we can do, either to help to set what would be on the table, or to persuade either of the two parties to come to the table, or to be a broker if negotiations begin, I am sure that we would be happy to do that."
While Canada continues to engage China and the United States on the issue of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, no such formal offer to mediate has been made.
"I don’t think there’s been a crisis of this magnitude facing the world perhaps since the Cuba crisis, or certainly for a long, long time,” McCallum added. “There is an urgency to try to come to some solution to this, but so far I think that solution is eluding the whole world."