As it turns out, the recent chain of turns, twists and provocative rhetoric between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was nothing more than a smokescreen. Both Washington and Pyongyang were prepared to talk right from the start, and both wanted to negotiate from a position of strength, hence the recent maneuvers.
After having met with Kim Yong-chol, the right-hand man and special envoy of Kim Jong-un, at the White House on June 1, Trump immediately softened his stance on Pyongyang.
Not only did Trump confirm that his summit with Kim on June 12 in Singapore will take place as scheduled, he also declared in advance that the two countries may cut major deals during the event.
In the meantime, Trump has toned down his rhetoric over North Korea, claiming that he would not impose “maximum pressure” again on Pyongyang on the denuclearization issue.
In fact during his meeting with Kim Yong-chol, Trump told the envoy that North Korea can take its time over the matter.
While some commentators have criticized Trump for making too many compromises on North Korea even at the expense of the national interests of the United States, some have jokingly said that Trump might be eyeing the Nobel Peace Prize.
However, Trump actually has a very clear strategic agenda: undermine China’s influence in the region by trying to win over North Korea.
All the compromises he has made and the recent flip-flopping over the summit were just diplomatic maneuvers to facilitate the accomplishment of his strategic goal.
Once Washington succeeds in winning over Pyongyang, that will definitely put Beijing in an embarrassing position.
As a matter of fact, apart from the upcoming Trump-Kim summit, the US has recently taken a series of unusual steps that were apparently directed at China.
These steps included Pentagon renaming its US Pacific Command to US Indo-Pacific Command; the sailing of two US warships within 12 nautical miles of a disputed island in the South China Sea; and US Defense Secretary James Mattis blasting China over its deployment of military hardware, including surface-to-air missiles and anti-ship missiles, across the South China Sea during a recent security summit, the Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore.
And if we piece the puzzle together, we can easily tell that these were all carefully calculated and planned moves by Washington to advance its China-containment policy.
Simply put, if Trump manages to turn Pyongyang from foe into friend, North Korea will immediately become a dagger pointed at the back of China, and the implications for the entire strategic landscape in Northeast Asia will be both profound and dramatic.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 4
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
– Contact us at [email protected]