Aletho News

ΑΛΗΘΩΣ

China becomes Trump’s indispensable partner

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | March 29, 2018

On Wednesday, the Chinese ambassador to the United States briefed the National Security Council in the White House regarding the visit by the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to Beijing. The White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders later expressed cautious optimism that in their estimation, “things are moving in the right direction” and the meeting in Beijing between Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping was “a good indication that the maximum pressure campaign (on North Korea) has been working.” She said:

  • You saw him (Kim) leave for the first time — since becoming the leader of North Korea — for that meeting. And we consider that to be a positive sign that the maximum pressure campaign is continuing to work. And we’re going to continue moving forward in this process in hopes for a meeting down the road.
  • Certainly we would like to see this (end-May meeting between Trump and Kim). Obviously this is something of global importance and we want to make sure that it’s done as soon as we can, but we also want to make sure it’s done properly. And we’re working towards that goal. As we’ve said before, the North Koreans have made that offer and we’ve accepted, and we’re moving forward in that process.

Trump himself gave thumbs-up. He tweeted: “For years and through many administrations, everyone said that peace and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was not even a small possibility. Now there is a good chance that Kim Jong Un will do what is right for his people and for humanity. Look forward to our meeting!”

Evidently, Beijing transmitted some extraordinarily hopeful tidings. The remarks by former US state secretary James Baker (who still remains an influential voice in the conservative spectrum) praising China’s role suggests that Beijing is moving in tandem with the Trump administration. In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Baker said:

  • “I think it’s too bad that there wasn’t some way that we could work with the Chinese to achieve this, this result of denuclearization of the peninsula. China is the only country in the world that really has any influence, significant influence on North Korea.”
  • “I would have sent some high-level envoy to Xi Jinping, the president of China, that the Chinese trust and have confidence in. And I would have said, ‘Look, you don’t like what’s going on in the Korean Peninsula. We don’t like what’s going on. Why don’t we cooperate to stop it?”
  • “We, the United States, will support any government you (China) install in North Korea, provided they repudiate the acquisition or maintenance of nuclear weapons. We will trade with that government, we will establish diplomatic relations, we will execute a peace treaty ending the Korean War. Your (China’s) job is to put a government in place there that is different than this government.” (See the video of the interview.)

There is great poignancy here in these remarks because Baker had played a key role under President Ronald Reagan (Trump’s role model) negotiating the end of the Cold War in the 1980s face to face with Mikhail Gorbachev.

China has positioned itself brilliantly as the facilitator-cum-partner-cum-ally-cum-friend – depending on who its interlocutor on the Korean Question happens to be. Xi deputed politburo member Yang Jiechi as his special envoy to visit Seoul to brief the South Korean leadership, even as preparatory talks for the inter-Korean summit in April were scheduled in the DMZ in Panmunjom. Evidently, Yang had a hand in the positive outcome today at the Panmunjom meeting where there is agreement to schedule the inter-Korean summit on April 27. (here and here)

Quite obviously, there are processes today that are beyond the US’ control. Again, the US’ number one ally in Northeast Asia – Japan – has been marginalized. No one set out from Beijing to brief Tokyo. Inevitably, there are conspiracy theories. The London Times newspaper resuscitated today the hackneyed thesis that China is driving a wedge between the US and South Korea. But that seductive conspiracy theory underestimates that China is, in actuality, playing for far higher stakes in its rise on the global stage as a great power.

To be sure, history is in the making. If, as Baker says, the US is willing to normalize with North Korea and conclude a peace treaty to bring the Korean War to a formal end, the raison d’etre of continued US military presence in South Korea (on which there is significant local opposition already) becomes unsustainable. That impacts the overall US power projection in Asia. Again, if the North Korean problem is resolved peacefully, can the Taiwan Question be far behind?

Equally, China must know that there is no quick fix to the North Korean problem and it suits China to leverage the US’ critical dependence on its cooperation for the long haul – which in turn can stabilize the Sino-American relationship itself and open a new era of big-power relationship based on trust, mutual respect and sensitivity to each other’s core interests, which Beijing has been assiduously seeking.

On the other hand, Trump is well aware that if he can swing a deal on North Korea, it will significantly boost his re-election bid in 2020. Wouldn’t China know it, too? (Read my column in The Week magazine recently – The art of the Korean deal.)

March 30, 2018 - Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.