Chinese state media sought to reinject Beijing into the conversation following Tuesday’s historic summit between North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump, suggesting Americans “borrow some wisdom from Eastern philosophy” and abandon “unrealistic ideas” that the U.S. will not need China to mediate with Pyongyang.
Most of the commentary from government media on Wednesday morning local time arrived via the Global Times, which Beijing often uses as an unofficial mouthpiece. Several columns in the newspaper appeared to tepidly praise the summit between Trump and Kim while warning that, without Chinese intervention, any attempt at rehabilitating the bilateral relationship would be a failure.
One column warned Trump away from “unrealistic ideas” that Washington could soon render Beijing irrelevant in North Korean foreign policy.
“Trump may have to abandon unrealistic ideas that the US can become the main protagonist in North Korea’s economic story,” the Times warned. “The North Korean economy remains vulnerable following years of sanctions, so aid and investments are needed to rebuild its economy. The US and Europe are likely to be important sources of investment for North Korea if the UN Security Council loosens economic sanctions, but it is North Korea’s neighbors in Asia – such as China and South Korea – that will be main external drivers of North Korea’s economic rise.”
The article goes on to suggest that China and North Korea should cooperate on infrastructure, a subtle nod to China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) plan to dominate the global infrastructure market. The Chinese government has established plans to build ports, roads, and other key infrastructure largely in developing countries, indebting the countries to them in such a way that they can ultimately control the projects they build. North Korea would be a natural expansion of the project, which multiple U.S. officials have derided as “predatory.”
“China and South Korea are North Korea’s important economic partners,” the article concludes. “Their roles in North Korea’s possible economic transformation cannot be replaced by the US”
In another column, the Global Times suggests that China should receive sole credit for making the Singapore summit happen.
“Did anyone dare to believe that such a summit can actually take place half a year ago? A certain force is pushing such seemingly impossible things toward becoming possible,” the column argues. “This force is the new logic of international politics in the 21st century.”
China’s “Eastern philosophy,” the piece goes on to claim, is responsible for creating this force. The phrase “new logic of international politics in the 21st century” is meant to invoke the defining Communist Party philosophy of the time, “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”
“The US’ earlier mindset – it would get back at North Korea after Pyongyang completes denuclearization – needs to be adjusted,” this column concludes. “The U.S. may need to borrow some wisdom from Eastern philosophy. If it can have favorable interactions with North Korea and do away with its hostile attitude toward the country, the result will only be better. ”
In another article written as a news story with expert quotes, the Global Times cites a former vice foreign minister, Fu Ying,” who applauds China for promoting the direction Washington has taken “all along” and having “played a vital role in making it possible.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang made a similar claim during his regular press briefing Tuesday.
“China is always committed to achieving the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, upholding the peace and stability on the Peninsula and resolving the relevant issue through dialogue and consultation,” he told reporters. “The facts have proven that the China-proposed ‘suspension for suspension’ initiative has been materialized and now the situation is also moving forward in the direction of the ‘dual-track’ approach.”
China has for years demanded an end to joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States, suggesting that these exercises are equally a violation of international law as the many human rights abuses and the illicit nuclear program under Xi Jinping. Trump announced an end to the joint exercises following his meeting with Kim.
These voices leaves out the detail that many suspect China was responsible for Trump canceling the summit two weeks ago, before North Korea’s change in tone guaranteed it would occur. Following a visit to Dalian, China, and a meeting with Xi Jinping, Kim and his state media changed their tone towards the United States, returning to their typical belligerent rhetoric. Trump canceled the summit citing “the tremendous anger and open hostility” in North Korea’s propaganda. Reports suggested that Trump blamed Xi Jinping for convincing Kim to change his attitude.
China at the time applauded North Korea’s “restraint, rationality, and sincerity” following the cancelation, doing little to dissuade those who believed Beijing played a part in the renewed vitriol.