China shows interest in North Korea

China has reinserted itself into the middle of the simmering North Korean crisis.

This is the significance of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent surprise visit to Pyongyang. What it means for the on-again-off-again bromance between North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump remains unclear.

The two-day visit marked the first time in 14 years that a Chinese leader has made the trek to North Korea. Usually, such meetings take place in China, an arrangement favoured by Beijing in order to demonstrate the power imbalance between the two Communist countries.

But this time, Xi swallowed his pride and made the journey himself.

While China is North Korea’s most important ally, relations between the two countries can be fraught. Xi has not hidden his distaste for Kim’s nuclear sabre-rattling.

Kim, in return, has bristled at being treated as a supplicant.

Kim’s unexpected pivot toward South Korea in 2018 and his historic summit with Trump that year can be explained in part by his desire to reduce North Korea’s dependence on China.

By agreeing to economic sanctions against Pyongyang, while at the same time selectively ignoring them, China had made itself virtually the sole arbiter of the North Korean economy.

If Kim became too uppity, Xi needed only to tighten the border a bit. Conversely, when Kim co-operated, border controls were unofficially loosened.

The result was a North Korea that furthered China’s strategic interests — a country that was dangerous to the United States, but not too dangerous, one that was poor, but not poor enough to destabilize Kim’s regime.

For Kim, a rapprochement with the U.S. would give him a way out of this box.

Job No. 1 was to transform North Korea into a nuclear power to give it bargaining leverage with the U.S. Kim accomplished that in 2017.

Job No. 2 was to negotiate a deal with the U.S. to ease economic sanctions. And Trump’s erratic presidency seemed to offer Kim his best chance at doing that.

The story of the Kim-Trump bromance is well known. Both leaders abandoned their reckless rhetoric. Instead, they pledged their undying affection for one another.

At their first summit, in 2018 in Singapore, they agreed to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but without specifying what that might mean.

Their second summit in Hanoi in 2019, ended in failure after Trump insisted that Kim give up all his nuclear weapons in exchange for an end to sanctions.

Meanwhile, time was beginning to run out. Trump was becoming increasingly focused on Iran and, to a lesser extent, Venezuela. He launched a ruinous trade war against China and threatened Europe with the same.

There was simply no time for his good buddy Kim.

In April, Kim journeyed to Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin. But there was only limited joy there. So it was back to China.

By meeting Kim on his home turf, Xi allowed the North Korean leader to save some face. Xi also went out of his way to praise Kim for his handling of the economy.

But the Chinese leader made it clear that there was to be no more freelancing. Beijing would have to be involved in any future plans for the Korean Peninsula.

In an article that tellingly was published in the North Korean regime’s official party newspaper, Xi wrote of the need to devise a “grand plan” to bring permanent peace to the Korean Peninsula.

Development of such a plan, he wrote, would of course involve China.

Thomas Walkom is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

Just Posted

Tribunal rules Edmonton pharmacist harmed integrity of profession

EDMONTON — An Edmonton pharmacist has been found guilty of unprofessional conduct… Continue reading

U.S. secretary of state takes aim at China over diplomatic feud with Canada

OTTAWA — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed any suggestion that… Continue reading

Liberals dig up video of Scheer speaking against same-sex marriage

OTTAWA — The federal Liberals hinted on Thursday at some of the… Continue reading

Your Ward News editor gets the maximum one year jail for hate promotion

TORONTO — The editor of a Toronto-based publication was handed the maximum… Continue reading

B.C. father charged with murder says he was attacked, daughters killed

VANCOUVER — A Vancouver Island man accused of killing his two young… Continue reading

WATCH: Trailer stolen from Red Deer deli

A Red Deer business has contacted police after a trailer was stolen… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Thursday The Red Deer and District Garden Club hosts its annual Flower… Continue reading

China announces tariff hike on $75 billion of US products

BEIJING — China on Friday announced tariff hikes on $75 billion of… Continue reading

Billionaire David Koch, conservative donor, dies at age 79

WASHINGTON — Billionaire industrialist David H. Koch, who with his older brother,… Continue reading

Quebec has accepted 40 per cent fewer skilled workers in first half of 2019

MONTREAL — New statistics show Quebec is making good on its promise… Continue reading

Regina Humane Society lowering fees to help find homes for seized cats

The Regina Humane Society says it’s caring for 79 cats and kittens… Continue reading

Surrey, B.C., plan to switch to municipal force from RCMP

SURREY, B.C. — The Vancouver-area city of Surrey, home to Canada’s largest… Continue reading

U.S. secretary of state takes aim at China over diplomatic feud with Canada

OTTAWA — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed any suggestion that… Continue reading

Liberals dig up video of Scheer speaking against same-sex marriage

OTTAWA — The federal Liberals hinted on Thursday at some of the… Continue reading

Most Read