With both North Korea and the U.S. reaching an agreement at the recently concluded historic meeting between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump in Singapore, one country remained a cautious onlooker — China. North Korea has always been a close ally of the Chinese government. As such, its sudden move toward the U.S. has reportedly sent the establishment into damage control mode.
The China-North Korean ‘friendship’
The friendship between the two nations goes back to the Korean War, when China supported North Korea against its counterparts down south. And after the war was over, the Chinese government provided all the necessary resources to stimulate the North Korean economy and help it survive the consequences of war.
From then on, both nations have been rather adamant at maintaining the friendship. But things started getting a bit sour between them after China supported international trade sanctions on North Korea that demanded the country abandon its nuclear program.
Irked by the actions of its long-term ally, Kim decided to meet with President Trump in a historic meeting on June 12, 2018.
Chinese concerns regarding the North Korea-U.S. relationship
“If you look at history, North Korea is not sure of China, and has a kind of revenge mentality. The worst outcome is that the United States, South Korea, and North Korea all get together and China gets knocked out”, The New York Times quoted Chinese historian Shen Zhihua.
And this is what basically worries China’s Communist Party. Geographically speaking, North Korea acts like a kind of buffer against an armed invasion from the U.S. or other nations into China. Once North Korea joins hands with the U.S., China will have Western powers set up army camps just outside its borders.
Having potential enemies near its borders is something China definitely does not want. If North Korea agrees to any such demands by the U.S., the Chinese will essentially be surrounded by U.S. troops. And although China reportedly tried to influence Kim to give up the summit, the leaders of both North Korea and the U.S. did end up meeting each other in Singapore, and arrived at many informal agreements.
However, China’s meddling in North Korean affairs continued after the summit. In fact, Kim visited Chinese President Xi Jinping shortly thereafter, which in turn irked the U.S.
The United States has been on a low-key trade war with the Chinese for some time, raising tariffs and duties on imports from China. And the meeting between Xi and Kim was seen an indirect threat to the U.S. to abandon its current trade war with China if it ever hopes for friendly relations with North Korea.
“I think China is sending a message to Trump: You want to put trade tariffs on us and have our cooperation with North Korea? You can’t have both”, CNN quotes former U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.
Given that China is the biggest trading partner of North Korea and that the Chinese are definitely not happy with U.S. trade policies of late, the intertwined relationship between these three nations is sure to become even more complicated in the coming months. And fortunately or unfortunately, the Chinese government will be the deciding factor as to where the relationship moves.