May 28th 2018

Trump Cancels, China Wins

 

LONDON – US President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to cancel his planned June 12 summit with Kim Jong-un represents a diplomatic coup for the North Korean leader, and an even bigger victory for China. In the space of just a few months, Kim’s image has gone from that of international pariah to that of thwarted peacemaker.

Kim could hardly have dreamed of a greater success. In the face of threatened US airstrikes and tight economic sanctions – even from its neighbor and supposed ally China – North Korea has achieved the status of a nuclear-weapons state. And now it can even claim a kind of moral high ground. Kim, after all, was the first to raise the idea of a historic bilateral summit with the United States, and he has now had his overture rejected – after first being accepted – by Trump.

To be sure, no one in East Asia harbors any illusions that Kim has changed. He is still a brutal dictator and a potential menace to regional peace. But so far all of North Korea’s neighbors – Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia – have found his diplomatic strategy to be more predictable, and even more credible, than that of the US.

Since the idea of talks was first raised, Kim’s promise to put “denuclearization” on the table always called for a pinch of salt. After so much time and effort developing a nuclear deterrent, he was never going to give it up easily. Still, proposals to de-escalate military tensions – perhaps accompanied by a peace treaty and a broader framework for managing relations in the region – represented a welcome development, especially in the eyes of the South Koreans and the Chinese.

The same could not be said of America’s apparent negotiating position. The Trump administration’s demand for the complete and verifiable dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear and missile forces was never realistic. And, making matters worse, US credibility has been thoroughly eroded by Trump’s decision to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, and by comments from his national security adviser, John Bolton, and Vice President, Mike Pence, both likening North Korea’s situation to that of Libya under Muammar el-Qaddafi.

It should have been obvious that lumping Kim together with Qaddafi – who was overthrown and murdered by rebels in 2011 – would cause North Korea to respond with “anger and open hostility,” as Trump put it in his letter canceling the summit. That is a fair description of the Kim regime’s statements; but it doesn’t change the fact that the North Koreans now look like the victims of American intimidation.

Regardless of whether Trump’s plan was actually to start with a demand for full denuclearization and then retreat to something more credible, the question now is what the administration might do to achieve denuclearization – or even regime change – in the absence of a summit. It remains to be seen how America’s core strategic partners in the region will respond. Japan and South Korea both feel buffeted, bypassed, and ignored by Trump’s impulsive decision-making. Japan, in particular, has come to fear US actions more than North Korean moves. It doesn’t help that the Trump administration has refused to grant Japanese steelmakers exemptions from its threatened tariffs.

Where does this all lead? In response to Trump’s cancellation of the summit, North Korea, sensing that it controls the moral high ground, has expressed its continued openness to talks, leading Trump to muse confusingly about re-instating the meeting. But the real question is how China will respond.

Last year, China acceded to US pressure to tighten economic controls on its North Korean client, proving that it is willing to do its part to preserve regional stability. More recently, it hosted Kim twice in the space of less than two months. These were Kim’s first trips abroad as North Korean leader, and they showed that he was willing to pay obeisance to Chinese President Xi Jinping, and to seek Xi’s diplomatic backing.

Now that Trump has canceled the summit, the Chinese will see little reason to maintain pressure on North Korea. In fact, Trump has given China an enviable choice: it can use its leverage with North Korea as a bargaining chip in ongoing trade negotiations with the US, or it can restore trade and other economic relations with North Korea to remind Kim that he is wholly dependent on China.

Either way, with both the European Union and Japan bristling at the Trump administration’s aggressive moves on trade, North Korea, and the Iran nuclear deal, there is not much global pressure on China to bend to US demands. China’s biggest worry now is that the US will pursue military strikes against North Korea — though, as things stand, that remains a remote possibility.

Anything short of a military confrontation on the Korean Peninsula counts as a strategic win for China. In addition to regaining a tributary ally, the country has shown that it can be a force for peace and stability. Now, anything it does in the region will look reasonable compared to US actions. The decline of US influence, and the strengthening of China’s strategic clout, continues unabated. Thanks to Trump, that process has just been accelerated.


Bill Emmott, a former editor-in-chief of The Economist, is the author of The Fate of the West.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2018.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Aug 15th 2018
Why do conspiracy theories and general charlatanism so often receive their strongest support from the world’s dictators? Sure, dictators are almost always oddballs themselves, but that cannot be all there is to it. In fact, it is worth asking whether quackery is a necessary feature of authoritarian rule.
Aug 15th 2018
Across the global economy, the potential for automation seems huge. Adidas’ “Speedfactory” in Bavaria will employ 160 workers to produce 500,000 pairs of shoes each year, a productivity rate over five times higher than in typical factories today. The British Retail Consortium estimates that retail jobs could fall from three million to 2.1 million within ten years, with only a small fraction replaced by new jobs in online retailing. Many financial-services companies see the potential to cut information-processing jobs to a small fraction of current levels. And yet, despite all this, measured productivity growth across the developed economies has slowed. One possible explanation.....
Aug 11th 2018
US President Donald Trump’s erratic unilateralism represents nothing less than abdication of global economic and political leadership. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, his rejection of the Iran nuclear deal, his tariff war, and his frequent attacks on allies and embrace of adversaries have rapidly turned the United States into an unreliable partner in upholding the international order. But the administration’s “America First” policies have done more than disqualify the US from global leadership. They have also created space for other countries to re-shape the international system to their liking. The influence of China, in particular, is likely to be enhanced.
Aug 9th 2018
Wall Street is full of turnaround talk following Tesla’s second-quarter earnings results, sending shares in the futuristic electric car pioneer up almost 10%. Investors welcomed news that the company was burning through cash at a lower rate and revenues were considerably higher, yet the results also showed that Tesla’s financial and operational weaknesses have not gone away. From my reading of the figures, this is a company in real trouble.
Aug 1st 2018
By seeking to disrupt virtually all that has defined the West since the end of World War II, Trump has brought the world to a historical turning point. At stake is not the US-EU relationship, which remains strong, but rather the West’s dominant position on the world stage. Trump is accelerating a shift in the global balance of power that will leave both America and Europe weaker in relative terms. As income and wealth shift from the West to the East, China will increasingly be able to challenge the US as the world’s leading geopolitical, economic, and technological power.
Jul 28th 2018
Alarming stories about the diabetes epidemic that threatens millions of lives have become commonplace, and with good reason.......The link between cheap, sugary and fatty food and obesity and type 2 diabetes is indisputable. The healthy/unhealthy food cost ratio has to change because the evidence is that education – while valuable – is not enough by itself. The evidence from many countries shows that in most chronic, lifestyle-related diseases, legislation is faster and often more effective.
Jul 28th 2018

Last week, the Israeli Knesset passed a new basic law which in the main enshrines “Israel [as] the historical homeland of the Jewish people in which the State of Is

Jul 24th 2018
This past week by a vote of 62 to 55, Israel's Knesset passed legislation called "Israel as a Nation-State of the Jewish People." Heralding the passage of the bill, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described it as "a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the annals of the state of Israel...We have determined in law the founding principle of our existence. Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and respects the rights of all its citizens." In reaction, Israeli hardliners and their supporters in the US celebrated the legislation as "clarifying", while more liberal voices lamented "the damage the bill does to the 'Zionist vision.'" This is one debate where I cannot take the side of the liberals because in reality, the "Jewish Nation-State" bill is in fact "clarifying" as it merely establishes in "Basic Law" practices and policies that Israel has been implementing since its founding.
Jul 23rd 2018
How does the current global economic outlook compare to that of a year ago? In 2017, the world economy was undergoing a synchronized expansion, with growth accelerating in both advanced economies and emerging markets. Moreover, despite stronger growth, inflation was tame – if not falling – even in economies like the United States, where goods and labor markets were tightening.
Jul 22nd 2018
While the US is busy slipping off of its precipice, many of its best known political figures are beating a rather tired old drum – the new Cold War, Russia, China, North Korea. It is boring, predictable, and dated. In the meantime, Russia and China are proceeding apace to reshape world order – without America.
Jul 21st 2018
Israel has for decades been running the occupied territories of Palestine–Gaza and the West Bank– with Apartheid tactics. As with black South Africans under Apartheid, most Palestinians have been deprived of citizenship in a real, recognized state. Their villages have been isolated by a network of what often amount to Jewish-only highways. They have trouble getting to hospital through checkpoints. Their territory in the West Bank is patrolled by the Israeli army, and the Israeli state is actively depriving them of their property and giving it to white squatters.
Jul 12th 2018
The cabinet members who resigned this week apparently feared that politics is taking May toward a “soft Brexit,” their worst of all possible worlds........“soft Brexit,” maintains the status quo, more or less, letting Europeans freely circulate into British labor markets and allowing European firms to operate easily in the UK. The problem with “soft Brexit” is that it raises questions about why the UK is leaving at all, since it will still have the same obligations to Europe as before, it just won’t have a voice when the remaining 27 members of the European Union meet to make decisions.
Jul 12th 2018
One study on the 2010 World Cup found that there was a 37.5% rise in admission rates across 15 accident and emergency departments on England match days........Examining reports of domestic abuse in Lancashire (a county of approximately 1.5m people in Northern England), across the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cup tournaments, we discovered a 26% increase in reports of domestic abuse when England won or drew, and a 38% increase when England lost. Reports were also more frequent on weekends, and reached their peak when England exited the tournament.
Jul 10th 2018
If, back in the 1980s and 1990s, the US government, rather than arguing for Chinese economic opening, had prohibited any US company from investing there, China’s rise would have been significantly delayed, though not permanently prevented. Because that did not happen, China’s rise is now self-sustaining. A huge and increasingly affluent domestic market will make exports less vital to growth.
Jul 10th 2018
Comparing today’s demagogues with Adolf Hitler is almost always unwise. Such alarmism tends to trivialize the actual horrors of the Nazi regime, and distracts attention from our own political problems. But if alarmism is counterproductive, the question remains: At what point are democracies truly in danger? What was unimaginable only a few years ago – a US president insulting democratic allies and praising dictators, or calling the free press “enemies of the people,” or locking up refugees and taking away their children – has become almost normal now. When will it be too late to sound the alarm?
Jul 9th 2018
In view of such actions, expectations for Trump’s behavior at the upcoming summit have gone from prickly to dangerous. The sense of foreboding has been heightened by the announcement that, just four days after the summit ends, Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki. The nightmare scenario is easy to imagine: Trump lays bare NATO’s fractures, including by questioning mutual defense, before selling his allies down the river by publicly embracing Putin. But this does not need to be the outcome.
Jul 9th 2018
After 2027 (or maybe even 2025, only 7 years from now), the number of EVs will rapidly accelerate, as virtually all new vehicles bought will be electric (an effect of rapidly falling battery and other component costs and of the fuel for electric cars being essentially free; you can power one off your rooftop solar array).
Jul 3rd 2018
Most pundits interpret Trump’s outbursts as playing to his political base, or preening for the cameras, or blustering for the sake of striking future deals. We take a different view. In line with many of America’s renowned mental-health experts, we believe that Trump suffers from several psychological pathologies that render him a clear and present danger to the world.
Jul 3rd 2018
In the United Kingdom, Brexit looms large, with everyone from government ministers to tabloid newspapers frothing daily about the deal that will be struck with the European Union and the effects that it will have. But the EU faces too many pressing challenges to be obsessing about Britain. The UK’s concern is understandable: evidence is mounting of the likely damage a departure from the single market and customs union will do to the UK economy. According to new research from the Centre for European Reform, the UK economy is already 2.1% smaller than it would have been had voters chosen to remain. The hit to public finances totals £440 million ($579 million) per week.
Jun 26th 2018
Nowadays, Britain’s words and actions on the world stage are so at odds with its values that one must wonder what has happened to the country. Since the June 2016 Brexit referendum, British foreign policy seems to have all but collapsed – and even to have disowned its past and its governing ideas. Worse, this has coincided with the emergence of US President Donald Trump’s erratic administration, which is pursuing goals that are completely detached from those of Britain – and of Europe generally.