The second Trump-Kim Summit: Where is China?

Provided that US-DPRK negotiations do not generate hasty surprises, supporting the Trump-Kim summits is beneficial and almost cost-free for China. Beijing actually considers the progress made in 2018 as a highlight of US-China cooperation, a rare commodity these days. It sees itself as having contributed to the denuclearization process, such as pushing North Korea toward the negotiation table through strict implementation of sanctions in 2017. It also stands ready to provide mediation when negotiations run into a stalemate. Such assistance will inevitably be portrayed and presented as “favors” to Washington when needed. Moreover, denuclearization of North Korea is in China’s interest and has been seen as one of China’s top priorities for Korean Peninsula affairs, along with peace and stability. In fact, China has been eager to take credit for the synchronization of denuclearization and a peace process, tracing it back to the 2017 Chinese proposal of a “dual track” mechanism.

Some might see the diversification of North Korea’s external relations as mitigating its dependence on China, therefore undermining Beijing’s interests. However, in reality, the North’s high level of dependence on China has not made it a strategic asset, but a major liability. In this sense, a North Korea with improved ties with the outside world helps alleviate China’s political, economic and reputational responsibility for the North’s future. As long as China still maintains influence over the pace and substance of the US-North Korea negotiations, Beijing may not be as worried as foreign observers speculate.

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