When President Donald Trump finally meets North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, the specter of China will also be in the room, a potent signal to the American President that Kim Jong Un has support for his cause from the region’s most formidable presence.
Along with shoring up a rocky alliance, Kim’s two-day visit to Beijing was also designed to show Washington and Seoul that Kim wasn’t without his own diplomatic arsenal as he attempts to push for sanctions relief and recognition of North Korea as a legitimate nuclear power.
“The very fact of this meeting alone, and certainly the tenor of the Chinese statement about it, really does increase Kim Jong Un’s leverage in the upcoming talks. It shows that Kim has a friend in Beijing,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow and director of the Defense Posture Project at the Federation of American Scientists, where he covers US nuclear strategy, deterrence and North Korea. “It means the Trump team is going to be navigating really narrow straits here. It’s hard to overstate how dramatic this development is,” Mount said.
Now that ties between Pyongyang and Beijing are seemingly mended, that bodes ill for the White House, said Mount. “The division between Beijing and Pyongyang was really our greatest asset with respect to North Korea,” he told CNN. “If that narrows even slightly, that’s a sea change. It changes the outlook for negotiations that we have to adjust for very rapidly. It’s clear both Pyongyang and Beijing won’t be dictated to by Seoul and Washington, but also develop their own agenda. We should be aware that it might be a coordinated agenda,” Mount said.
The messages out of both Beijing and Pyongyang following the visit are meant to emphasize to all parties that there can be no deal with North Korea without China’s involvement. The “situation on the Peninsula” refers to not only the tension over North Korea’s nuclear program, but the presence of US troops to the south and the outlying waters where US and South Korean militaries regularly conduct naval exercises.
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