Which is why Pompeo’s meetings in Beijing are decisive. Not only would North Korea’s nuclear program cease to exist without Chinese support. North Korea would disappear too. Some 90 percent of North Korea’s foreign trade is with China. And it was most likely China’s reluctant imposition of tough U.N. sanctions last spring that grabbed Kim’s attention. Now, with Singapore behind us, China is ready to ease the pressure. That cannot happen if denuclearization is to succeed.
Pompeo understands that in the midst of good feeling there is a tendency to look away from bad behavior, to excuse or rationalize autocratic probing for weakness and irresolution. Democracies often sacrifice both their principles and their interests in order to perpetuate abstract, meaningless, consequence-free diplomatic processes. If the Trump administration is to produce a different outcome than the Clinton, Bush, or Obama administrations, it must relax its posture only when North Korea provides tangible reasons to do so.
So you go to Beijing. Why? Because North Korea is but a part of a much larger puzzle: China’s rise to great power status.