Within the past month, North Korea’s rocky relationship with the United States has escalated — from UN sanctions on North Korea’s nuclear program to President Donald Trump’s threats of “fire and fury,” followed by North Korea’s retaliation with threats against Guam. Finally, the U.S. finds itself with the threat of a hydrogen bomb, as North Korea moves forward with tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs.

According to Senator Ed Markey, the U.S. is now on the precipice of a dangerous conflict — and the answer lies in the country’s relationship to China.

“The Chinese hold the key to forcing the North Koreans to come to the table,” Markey said in an interview with Boston Public Radio Thursday. “In order to ultimately reach some kind of an agreement, if it is possible at all, with the North Koreans, then we’re going to have to have the Chinese partner with us to drive the North Koreans to the table.”

This would mean China, the principle trading partner, principle source of revenue for the North Korean economy, and a supplier of textiles and oil, would have to shut down those channels, forcing North Korea’s hand.

“You can see that this is the heart of the issue, where if we turned it off, in cooperation with the Chinese, we could very quickly force the North Koreans to come to the table,” Markey said. “We have to exhaust that opportunity before it’s too late.”

“In 2006, the Chinese cut off the oil and the North Koreans came to the table in one month,” Markey continued. “We have to do this, and we have to get the Chinese to cooperate with us.”

On a recent trip to Asia, Markey met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and discussed the possibility of another war erupting in Korea. “The one thing he wants to make clear is that they do not want a second Korean War,” Markey said. “Thirty million people live within a 30 mile radius of the demilitarized zone, and there are thousands and thousands of North Korean rockets that are right along that border, which would lead to hundreds of thousands or millions of deaths within the first 48 hours of a war —and that would be before the war went nuclear.”

“They want, more than anything, to find a peaceful resolution of this issue,” Markey said. “They are a strong ally, we should assure them that they are a strong ally.”

In June, Trump declared that he would work to change the global trade system by breaking down trade agreements with several countries, including South Korea. "The fact is that the United States has trade deficits with many, many countries and we cannot allow that to continue,” Trump said in a press conference at the White House, “and we'll start with South Korea right now."

According to Markey, Trump’s rhetoric could potentially pose a great threat to relations with North Korea. “We shouldn’t be trying to start a trade war in the middle of a potentially real war, but that’s the dilemma that we have right now,” Markey said.

“It’s time for Trump to just stop escalating the crisis through reckless military threats, to stop threatening to pull out of our trade agreement with our ally, South Korea, and to also tell the Chinese that our goal is not to…remove [North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un] from power — it’s just to make sure that there is a ballistic missile program and hydrogen bomb program, which gets frozen in North Korea.”

If North Korea’s nuclear program “freezes,” that would mean a halting of all tests and progress, essentially stopping the program in its tracks.

“In return, they could receive a guarantee that their regime does not have to worry that we are going to try to topple it, which is ultimately what they’re looking for,” Markey said. “What they’re looking for, through their nuclear weapons and ICBM program, is a guarantee that we won’t topple them, because they can attack us.”

“But if you threaten us,” Markey continued, “then that could lead to an escalation.”

To hear Senator Markey’s full interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio player above.