Why you should care
Because China may be the party that benefits most from the easing of tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? Is this the beginning of a “terrific relationship”? That’s what U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters on Tuesday during his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The two men met in a carefully choreographed summit at a Singapore hotel that featured flags, red carpeting and a 13-second handshake before the cameras. The two leaders signed a joint statement in which Kim “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” and Trump “committed to provide security guarantees” to North Korea. Trump also announced an unexpected U.S. concession: the suspension of joint military exercises with South Korea.
Why does it matter? The summit was the culmination of a rocky courtship between two impulsive leaders hoping to strike an unprecedented deal to reduce tensions on a peninsula that has been divided since the Korean War. The statement signed by the two nations, however, was short on details, including timetables and enforcement mechanisms, and it is unclear how Trump will make sure that Kim lives up to denuclearization promises similar to those that North Korea has made, and broken, in the past. What’s more clear: the invisible third party at the bargaining table — China — may be the nation that benefits most from the rapprochement between the U.S. and North Korea.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Suspension for suspension? China has long backed a “freeze for freeze” strategy in which North Korea would stop missile and nuclear weapons testing in exchange for an end to American military drills on the peninsula. “Our suspension for suspension process is right and has been realized,” a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said before Trump’s announcement. The next drills were planned for late August. According to U.S. forces in South Korea, they’re still on until an order to cancel has been issued.
This seems familiar. A similar bargain was struck back in 1992 when North Korea allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its nuclear facilities while the U.S. paused joint military exercises with South Korea. Then, under the 1994 Agreed Framework brokered by President Bill Clinton, North Korea agreed to cease the operation and construction of its nuclear reactors, an accord that lasted nearly nine years — until it was revealed that North Korea had been cheating and getting their uranium somewhere else.
Easing their pain… Just hours after the historic meeting, China’s foreign ministry suggested the U.N. suspend, or permanently lift, sanctions against Pyongyang. That would allow North Korea’s main trading partner to resume full economic activity with the nation, thereby avoiding the Hermit Kingdom’s potential collapse. Experts say China’s ideal outcome is a “soft landing” that entails a denuclearized Pyongyang pursuing meaningful, long-term reforms.
…and staying secure. Ultimately, Beijing wishes to ensure North Korea remains a functional buffer state separating the pro-American South from China, while also avoiding nuclear war on the peninsula. That’s why Trump’s planned suspension of U.S. military drills pleased Chinese officials, especially since the pledge apparently came without any significant strings attached. Trump’s labeling the U.S. military presence “provocative” — employing the language China has long used — will also be cheered in Beijing.
Did you notice? Kim and Chinese leader Xi Jinping only met for the first time in recent months, but the two are now on such friendly terms that when Kim arrived in Singapore on Sunday he alighted from a Boeing 747 with the Chinese national flag on it. The Chinese government appears to have loaned the North Korean leader the aircraft, which took a detour through Chinese airspace accompanied by a Chinese fighter jet.
WHAT TO READ
Ending military exercises? Trump’s plan for North Korea was China’s plan first, By Emily Rauhala at The Washington Post
“In coming weeks, China will need to find a way back into the center of the negotiations, or risk being left out of the Trump-Kim bromance. In the short term, it can likely count this as a win.”
Can the US, China and North and South Korea find peace on the peninsula? War veterans hope so, By Minnie Chan, Robert Delaney and Lee Jeong-ho at the South China Morning Post.
“Perhaps those most keenly watching for signs of a treaty are the men from the two Koreas, the United States and China who were directly involved in the three years of bloodshed.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Watch the video Trump showed Kim Jong Un about North Korea’s possible future
“Two men. Two leaders. One destiny.”
Watch on Guardian News on YouTube:
Barbed wire and smuggled crabs: Watching North Korea from China
“In some places, there are no fences at all. It’s an illustration that … China has no real intention of isolating North Korea, and that the old alliance still stands.”
Watch on the BBC:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
“They have great beaches.” Trump said he told Kim to think about peace from a “real estate perspective.” An end to North Korea isolation could bring investment and new beachfront properties to pristine locations situated conveniently between China and South Korea. No promises yet of a Trump resort.