Over the past two days, news reports were filled with commentary about the North Korean visit to China. Initially, there was speculation that Kim Jong Un was present on the North Korean train, and this would later be confirmed by Chinese state-run news agencies. Should this be a cause for concern to the White House as the Trump Administration continues to prepare for a summit with North Korea, whose date is still to be determined?
What has pushed China to move to the forefront as an important voice in these meetings? Prior to this point, South Korea had been spearheading talks with North Korea in an attempt to bring the U.S. and North Korea to the table for diplomatic discussions. In addition to this, there was an international effort in place between the U.S., South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia to address international concerns about the North Korean nuclear program. With recent events, it leads many to ask the question: ‘What has happened?’
Considering that China is North Korea’s main economic ally, it is in North Korea’s best interests to ensure that it does not become more incapacitated economically by additional economic sanctions imposed by the international community. Therefore, securing an ally in China is the best political move Kim could make prior to meeting with the U.S. in the future. Another thing to consider is that Kim could possibly be using his country’s relationship with China to cause dissension between the multinational group led by the U.S. How is this a problem for the U.S.?
Last week, the U.S. government reported that it was planning to impose trade tariffs against Chinese products in the amount of $50-60 billion. The Chinese government responded by stating if the U.S. moved forward with its plans, it would place tariffs on a potential 128 American-made products which would total close to $3 billion. China is currently looking at charging the U.S. a 15% tariff in the first round, with a possible increase to 25% on a second group of American products. This means that China could possibly hit the U.S. hard with strong tariffs against its soybean and aircraft industries.
This, at the beginning, is not as economically damaging to the U.S economy as it has the potential to become considering that China is the U.S. government’s largest foreign creditor and its third largest export market. In other words, China can do more damage to the American economy than President Trump may choose to believe. According to news reports, China does not want to enter into a trade war, but it will not allow itself to be bullied by economic threats and trade tariffs from the U.S. government either.
As China has made impressive strides in recent decades to become a premier world power, it has also developed into a major player in the area of international policy affairs. Although the U.S. maintains its position as a world leader, decisions about international policy in the Asian region cannot be implemented nor enforced without allowing China to have a seat at the table. This means that China has some interests of its own to be considered in a U.S. – North Korea summit as well. BBC reports, “What Mr. Kim might want in return remains unclear. But both North Korea and China have long wanted U.S. troops and weapons out of South Korea, and this is likely to be a key bargaining chip.” This is the common ground that may strengthen relations between China and North Korea, which have been strained due to China’s support of the international sanctions imposed on North Korea.
In the final analysis, China has been largely excluded from diplomatic efforts in the past and has seized this opportunity to remind the international community that its voice will be heard and respected. At this point, the question must be asked, ‘Did Trump’s trade tariffs push China too much?’ Did China use this meeting as one of its responses to Trump’s talks about trade tariffs? How should the Trump administration respond to this unforeseen report? How will this affect Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un in the future? How will it affect U.S. – China relations in the future? The answer will soon come as the world continues to observe.
Sean Mungin, author of “The Thorn In The Flesh”