TRUMP’S DIPLOMACY PROBABLY PUSHED CHINA TO START TALKS WITH NORTH KOREA, EXPERTS SAY
By: Cristina Maza
China will soon send a senior diplomat to visit North Korea for the first time in two years, indicating that President Donald Trump’s recent pressure on Beijing to tackle Kim Jong Un’s regime and its nuclear program might finally be working, experts say.
Chinese state media reported on President Xi Jinping’s decision Wednesday, days after Trump finished a 12-day Asia tour in which he visited China and pleaded with regional leaders to confront Kim.
“I don’t believe in coincidences, and they are sending this guy right after Trump’s visit,” Robert Manning, a former State Department official and East Asia expert, told Newsweek. “There was a comfort level between Xi and Trump on North Korea during this recent visit. But we don’t know what they’ve agreed to.”
Foreign policy experts said Song Tao, the Chinese diplomat visiting North Korea, will probably be expected to bring Pyongyang to the negotiating table over nuclear weapons. And China is likely to want something in return from Trump.
“What we are asking for is clear. We want North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons. So there was probably a Chinese ask,” Ariel Cohen, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council, told Newsweek. “When Trump comes [to Beijing], he is seen as a supplicant. The Chinese haven’t delivered yet, but we should be prepared to reciprocate if and when they do.”
Song, the head of the International Liaison Department for China’s ruling Communist Party, will travel to Pyongyang on Friday. China said the official reason for his visit is to simply report on the party’s recent congress, and it has not explicitly said nuclear weapons will be discussed. But Chinese state-media reports seemed to suggest Song will also deliver a special message from Xi to Kim.
China is North Korea’s most important trading partner, and the United States has been asking China to intervene to get the hermit empire to curb its nuclear weapons program. Kim and Trump have engaged in increasingly hostile threats of mass destruction for months, and Trump has repeatedly tweeted pleas for China to do something about it.
Recently, however, Trump has appeared more anxious to get North Korea to discuss its nuclear weapons program, and he may have now struck a deal with Xi.
Some experts say China might ask for the U.S. to back off its advances in the South China Sea. Others noted Trump has recently stopped criticizing China for its role in increasing the U.S. trade deficit.
Trump attacked China viciously on the campaign trail but appears to be cozying up to Xi and working on a partnership. Still, it’s possible Trump believes he has more leverage over China than he really does, Manning said.
“Trump lives in a time warp. It’s not 1983, and he has a gross overestimation of U.S. leverage,” he said, pointing out that the U.S. no longer dominates global trade as it did previously.
What is certain is that China has its own reasons for wanting to talk to Pyongyang. The relationship between the two countries has deteriorated substantially over the past several years, and Beijing is beginning to see Pyongyang’s nuclear tests as a liability in terms of its own security.
“China doesn’t do what the U.S. wants it to do, so if it does put pressure on North Korea, it will be in line with China’s interests,” said Lisa Collins, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “China does want North Korea to negotiate and have direct bilateral talks with the United States…. But we won’t know [the results] until after the meeting.”