Though not at table, Beijing scores a win

BEIJING: China may not have been at the table for Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un’s historic summit, but it still scored a strategic victory and sent out a clear message: no one puts Beijing in the corner.
Just months earlier, it seemed as though the US might cut China out of its negotiations with the North altogether, as direct contact was established between Pyongyang and Washington.
But Beijing was not about to allow itself to be left out of the action on the Korean peninsula, where it has long claimed security and economic interests, and Chinese officials moved quickly to remind both the US and North Korea that Beijing was indispensable.
And after the summit, when Trump made the shock announcement that the US would stop its massive war games with South Korea — a longtime Chinese goal — it was clear that Beijing had made its mark on the proceedings.
The dramatic turnaround was further cemented when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rushed to the Chinese capital to brief President Xi Jinping and other top leaders on the Trump-Kim meeting.
“The results of the Singapore Summit are basically in line with China’s expectations,” said Wu Xinbo, an expert on international relations at Shanghai’s Fudan University.
“The complete denuclearisation of the peninsula and the establishment of a peace mechanism for the peninsula are consistent with China’s constant claims.”
That outcome made China “the strategic winner of the summit,” according to one western diplomat, who asked for anonymity to discuss the sensitive subject.
Previously, “they would never have dreamed of Trump halting the joint manoeuvres with South Korea and mentioning possibly withdrawing troops from the South in the future.”
Beijing’s influence on the summit’s outcome was far from a foregone conclusion.
For years, China has propped up the North Korean economy in the face of international pressure, worried about a possible collapse of the Kim regime, which it sees as a strategic buffer against the US military presence in South Korea.
But Beijing could not ignore Pyongyang’s repeated nuclear and missile tests last year, and chose to support UN sanctions — cutting off the flow of coal, textiles, and other goods from North Korea.
With those concessions in hand, the US seemed intent on moving ahead without Beijing. — AFP