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Kim-Trump summit: From China’s perspective, it’s complicated

By Shubham

The world is waiting eagerly to know the outcome of the summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump scheduled in Singapore on Tuesday, June 12.

File photo of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un

However, whatever be the outcome of the summit between the US and North Korea, it will definitely have a bearing on the relation between two big powers - the US and China - who are in the race to gain the upper edge in (geo)strategic and economic fields.

"It is not just the inter-Korean relations that will be affected by the outcome of the Trump-Kim summit. The meeting will have a profound impact on the regional dynamics beyond that of the Korean Peninsula," according to a piece published in Korea Herald on Monday, June 11.

There are odds, yet both US & China win in the North Korea game

For the US, breaking the ice with North Korea will be seen as a strategic score in the Far East, which is known to be the backyard of an ambitious China, and could create fresh challenges for Beijing's muscle-flexing in regions like South China Sea where it has resorted to more military fortifications in the recent times.

At the same time, a successful détente between Trump and Kim will give some relief to China which was feeling increasingly worried over Pyongyang's relentless nuclear pursuits over the last several years. Beijing was also apprehending a probable implosion in North Korea as a result of the confrontation with the West, which would leave its border in direct tussle with the US and its allies in the region - South Korea and Japan, besides facing a serious refugee influx from a devastated North Korea.

But its relief would come with an appendage if the June 12 summit clicks. China will be wary that the diplomatic breakthrough between North Korea and the US, who were at loggerheads even six months ago, would bring them closer - a proposition which contradicts China's strategic plans in East Asia.

North Korea can use both US and China for its own betterment

We might see a serious geo-economic competition unfolding between the US and China to leave a deeper impact on North Korea if Kim decides to open his country completely. Pyongyang will be the biggest gainer in that case but for China, the relief of not having a reckless nuclear power at its border could be fast neutralised by other concerns.

Kim Jong-un has not been fiercely critical of the presence of American troops in the Korean Peninsula although there was a spat recently over the continuation of US-led air combat drills in the region even after the two Koreas came up with a joint declaration at Punmunjeom on April 27 after the historic inter-Korean summit but one feels it was more of a gallery show by the Kim regime to show to the world that it was by no means a weaker side in its dealings with the US.

A complete withdrawal of the US troops from the Korean Peninsula might not go in favour of North Korea for the Chinese would be more aggressive to cement its control in East Asia. For Kim, the immediate strategy looks more to strike a balance between its immediate big power and the distant big power and gain from both instead of confronting all at a time. Crippled by years of economic sanctions, the Kim regime today requires fresh blood to kick-start its economy and ensure a survival.

On Kim's relation with Beijing, it hasn't been too friendly of late because of Pyongyang's nuclear programme and although the two countries have close allies and a wise Kim did well in travelling twice to China and also flying to Singapore in a Chinese plane to show to the Americans how strong a bond he has with Chinese President Xi Jinping. But once the summit gets over and it proves to be successful, there is every possibility that Kim would change his too close stance vis-à-vis China.

China has done everything it could to remain relevant in the Korean peace process, fearing that its absence could see Trump run away with the prize. From meeting Kim twice months ahead of the summit, it has also expressed its desire to volunteer to implement the clauses of the peace process so that its lines of communication remain open with both the US and North Korea and it doesn't end up as a loser in case the summit kicks off.

However, in case the summit ends up in a disaster (who knows whether the mercurial Trump will not leave the session midway), then the situation will be back to square one. A re-widened divide between the US and North Korea might make China ideologically content but in terms of the real politik, it could see North Korea returning to its old path and renewing threats to the region. So for China, it's quite a tricky situation.

For the US, to see the summit fail would be setback but only temporary for it would give Trump, a man who is mostly carefree about what he does, to get back to what he does the best: pile up the pressure on North Korea. However, Trump would like to see the summit click for he has invested a lot of time and energy behind it and it gives him the chance to establish himself as a true statesman. A failure after all the efforts could see the Chinese mock him although in spirit, Beijing will not exactly want this occasion to get wasted.

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