The Chinese are reportedly pulling out all the stops in their efforts to spy on President Donald Trump and his delegation in Singapore. They are not only worried about losing their North Korean vassal state, but they are also seeking to learn as much as they can about Trump’s negotiating techniques.
You see, they understand that they are next.
For the past year, much of the focus has been on North Korea. Understandably so, since it wasn’t that long ago that Little Rocket Man was threatening to lob nuclear-tipped missiles at Washington.
Now that the sanctions — and Trump’s multiple threats of military action — have brought Kim Jong-un to the negotiating table, Xi Jinping is starting to feel the ground shifting under his feet.
I believe that Trump in Singapore will finally end the Korean War, replacing the armistice that was signed way back in 1953 with a permanent peace treaty. For this alone he will deserve — although he will not get — the Nobel Peace Prize.
It is even possible, though this will take more than one meeting, that Trump will convince Kim to toss away his nuclear weapons in return for an end to the sanctions crippling the North Korean economy, combined with a normalization of diplomatic and trade relations with South Korea, Japan, and the United States (he still won’t get the Nobel Peace Prize that he has been nominated for, of course).
These prospects are horrifying to the Chinese on multiple levels.
First of all, it will weaken China’s hand vis-à-vis the United States by taking away its ability to play the North Korea card.
In the past, every time U.S.-Chinese relations seem headed for rough waters, Beijing brings up North Korea. They lecture us on how much we need them to help “rein in” that rogue nuclear state. They used to bring up “climate change” as another area where America desperately needed their help. Now, not so much.
It is also very much to Beijing’s advantage to keep North Korea poor and dependent. A North Korean buffer state increases China’s influence in the region, keeps the Korean Peninsula weak and divided and, most importantly, keeps American troops away from the Yalu River, which borders China.
Chinese resistance explains why Kim Jong-un came back from his second meeting with Xi Jinping once again mouthing anti-American rhetoric.
Trump rightly blamed China for Kim’s “different attitude.” “I think I understand why that happened,” he said. “I can’t say that I’m happy about it.”
And then he promptly canceled the summit.
Kim Jong-un was forced to decide whether he wanted to remain China’s puppet or take his country in a new direction.
I believe that Beijing’s influence in Pyongyang never ran as deep as some observers imagined. Brutally repressive regimes have a lot of common — think here of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia — including the fact that their dictators are always deeply suspicious of each other.
The Chinese may have preserved founder Kim Il-sung’s half-kingdom by intervening in the Korean War, but that did not stop Grampa Kim and his son, Kim Jong-il, from playing Moscow against Beijing afterward.
Grandson Kim Jong-un has never been popular in Beijing. Beijing was particularly unhappy about the fact that North Korea’s underground nuclear tests were carried out not far from its border with China. Add to this the fact that the Trump administration’s economic sanctions have hit some Chinese businesses very hard.
As for Kim Jong-un, he has executed a number of people suspected of having close ties with Beijing. These include his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who was reportedly fed to a pack of hungry dogs in 2013, and his half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, who was assassinated in Malaysia in 2017.
The chill in relations between Pyongyang and Beijing probably explains why for the first six years of his rule, Kim was not once invited to visit the PRC.
Instead, Kim seems to have decided to play the America card. After he realized that threats and bluster were getting him nowhere with the new American president, he met with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and planned a summit with President Trump.
The possibility of an independent North Korea friendly to America horrifies Beijing. It was this prospect that led Xi Jinping to finally reach out to Kim. Two Xi-Kim summits followed in quick succession, the first in March and the second in May, as China’s leader frantically sought to bolster ties.
We don’t know what Xi offered Kim by way trade or investment — both illegal under the current sanctions regime – but there is no doubt that he tried to keep North Korea in China’s orbit.
Trump, however, is in a position to offer Kim a much better deal. In return for Kim giving up his nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, Trump can end the Korean War, lift the sanctions, and help guarantee Pyongyang’s independence from the PRC.
Once we neutralize North Korea, it will be time to turn our full attention to China.
As I argue in Bully of Asia, it may feel like the U.S. is on the brink of World War III because of North Korea’s fledgling ballistic missile agenda, but China is a much bigger threat to the U.S. and the world.
China – with its growing military might, its burgeoning economy, and its expansive territorial claims – is determined to remake the world in its image.
Only the U.S. can prevent China’s dream of world domination from becoming reality.
Steven W. Mosher is the President of the Population Research Institute and the author of Bully of Asia: Why China’s Dream is the New Threat to World Order.