Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after touring the Demilitarized Zone with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, announced American sanctions on North Korea

The new restrictions will be directed against trade related to the country’s nuclear program. There will also be travel and financial provisions, and the new measures will also target Pyongyang’s abuse of diplomatic privileges. There will be rules on luxury goods intended for members of the regime. The new sanctions have not yet been finalized.

Separately, the Obama administration, responding to pressure from Beijing, decided yesterday not to send the USS George Washington to joint exercises with South Korea in the Yellow Sea. Instead, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier will join exercises in the Sea of Japan, away from China.

Secretary Gates has said Washington wants to send a “clear message” to Pyongyang after its March 26 sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean frigate. He has certainly accomplished that.

On the one hand, we are telling Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader, that our policy toward him is an afterthought. Secretary Clinton’s not-yet-finalized sanctions have a last-minute quality to them, as if they were thought up on the plane as she winged her way to Seoul. 

And the failure to send the USS George Washington into the Yellow Sea has shown Kim that China can intimidate the United States—and that Beijing can protect him from the consequences of his aggressive acts.

With the Kim regime engaging in increasingly provocative behavior and Washington responding in insufficient fashion, there can be no happy ending.

Gordon G. Chang is the author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World." He writes a weekly column at Forbes.com.

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Gordon G. Chang is the author of "The Coming Collapse of China." He writes a weekly column at Forbes.com. Follow him on Twitter @GordonGChang.