Donald Trump has backed himself into a corner with his tariff-imposed trade war with China, undercutting the most important lynchpin of peace with North Korea.
BEIJING – Tremendous; great, incredible and tremendous; very historic, and very, very comprehensive. Such were the terms U.S. President Donald Trump used to praise last Tuesday’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and he was far from alone in welcoming what appeared to be a major breakthrough in burying the memory of nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula.
A week later, Chinese President Xi Jinping also hailed the “positive” outcome of the meeting as he welcomed Kim to Beijing for a two-day trip, the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea chairman’s third visit to the Chinese capital in only three months.
The Chinese leader has plenty of reason to hail the unfolding peace process, as it represents the triumph of the dual suspension or “double freeze” proposal China offered last year, which prescribed an end to the DPRK’s weapons’ tests in exchange for an end to U.S.-South Korea war games.
The process is also lifting the shroud of diplomatic and financial pressure from Beijing’s shoulders when dealing with its counterparts in Pyongyang, who are counting on China’s diplomatic and technical reinforcement as it introduces further market reforms and seeks reintegration with the global economy.
According to Chinese press reports, the two held a candid and in-depth exchange of views on bilateral relations while agreeing to work closely together to further deepen ties, including joint efforts to denuclearize the peninsula.
“No matter the changes in the international and regional situation, China’s party and government’s resolute position on being dedicated to consolidating and developing Sino-North Korea relations will not change,” Chinese reports quoted Xi as saying.
The DPRK will require China’s assistance to ensure that the U.S. remains committed to fulfilling the security guarantees it gave to the country, rather than veering toward the so-called “Libya option” of disarming Pyongyang before proceeding to violently topple Kim.
While U.S.-DPRK negotiations have progressed at a stunning breakneck pace, they have also coincided with increasing strains in relations between Beijing and Washington, especially over the trade war Trump has launched against China.
Trade war heats up
As Chinese newspapers have brimmed over with quotes of officials hailing Trump’s U-turn on the Korean nuclear issue, the same media has spared no effort piling derision on the U.S. president’s successive introduction of tariffs on Chinese goods.
Just last week, Washington announced the introduction of a 25 percent tariff on up to $50 billion of Chinese goods, provoking Beijing’s retaliation in the form of its own tariffs on U.S. products. China’s reaction resulted in Trump demanding that the U.S. Trade Representative’s office compile a new list of $200 billion in goods that would be subject to a 10-percent tariff. The reality TV star noted that if China follows through on its threat to levy retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods, the U.S. would introduce duties on yet another $200 billion in trade.
China has reacted furiously to what it sees as a blatant attempt at strong-arming it into accepting unfair trade terms, promising strong countermeasures to Trump’s “intimidation.” On Tuesday, a Chinese Ministry of Commerce spokesman noted:
Such practice of imposing extreme pressure and blackmailing is contrary to the consensus the two sides have reached through rounds of consultations, and disappoints the international community …The trade war waged by the United States is against both the law of the market and the development trend of today’s world. It undermines the interests of both Chinese and American people, the interests of companies and the interests of the people all over the world.”
The backdrop of fierce trade negotiations bordering on an all-out trade war between the two major powers may have led to the DPRK finding itself in the crosshairs of love-bombing attempts by both Washington and Beijing.
For the famously shrewd U.S. president, the prospect of disrupting the Chinese relationship with North Korea may be seen as a means of depriving China of leverage in trade talks. The former real-estate mogul may well believe that loud promises of glistening timeshares along Mount Paektu and Ritz Carlton hotels along the country’s east coast will entice Kim to drop his nukes and join the U.S. fold.
China-DPRK relations supported by the weight of modern history
Meanwhile, Beijing has pulled out all stops in feting Kim during his visits, which acclimates global public opinion to the idea that “Chairman Kim” isn’t some horrific dictator who should be treated as a pariah unless the U.S. says otherwise – no, he’s just the head of state in a nation seeking development.
In the meantime, the Communist Party of China and Workers’ Party of Korea have promoted a range of exchanges meant to promote the “all-round” fraternal relations and “mutually beneficial” alliance between the historically-intertwined organizations, whose ties date back to the 1930s, when first-generation leaders of their respective parties like Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, fought as comrades-in-arms as guerilla fighters versus the Japanese.
For the DPRK leadership, which spent the Cold War practicing a policy of equidistance between its mutually-opposed allies the Soviet Union and China, the position is comfortable and allows Kim to enjoy the benefits of amicable relations with both powers.
Reports have also emerged detailing how Chinese firms producing goods for the DPRK are resuming operations while North Korean laborers are being hired by clothing manufacturers in China, a sign that sanctions on the North are increasingly being shrugged off despite Washington’s unmet conditions for their relief.
“Although it seems there is a booming romance between Kim Jong-un and Trump, Kim understands the hierarchy. He knows that Xi is the Asian Godfather,” said Yanmei Xie, a China policy analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics, an economic research firm in Beijing. “[Kim] is making a pragmatic calculation that China can provide economic assistance to integrate North Korea diplomatically and economically into Northeast Asia.”
Now, with Xi’s go-ahead, the trade between the two countries could skyrocket in a manner that wipes away the foul taste of existing sanctions faced by Pyongyang, drastically undercutting Trump’s option of renewing the U.S.’s hostile policies toward a non-compliant DPRK.
Either way, war and pain are fast fading as prospects for the people of the Korean peninsula.
Top Photo | Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, hosts North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Dalian, China in this undated photo released on May, 9 2018 by KCNA.
Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.