The Hanoi Summit, from Beijing’s Perspective
The failure to reach an agreement between Trump and Kim is not considered a failure by China’s leaders.
- After the failure of the Hanoi summit, Trump is now definitely under pressure to show the art of the deal is still alive.
- The failure of the Hanoi summit, from Beijing’s point of view, could yet turn out to be a success.
- North Korea’s most important relationship is with China. The most important relationship for China is with the US.
- Trump’s praise of strongmen, criticism of Europe, undermining of NATO and his obsession with image is being used against him in the international arena.
The failure of the Hanoi summit, from Beijing’s point of view, could yet turn out to be a success.
North Korea’s most important relationship is with China. The most important relationship for China is with the United States.
Xi as Kim’s coach
In January, a train carrying North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un stopped in Beijing on a chilly morning. China’s president Xi Jinping held talks with Kim to prep him for the Trump summit.
The exact details of the talks are of course shrouded in secrecy, but it is not hard to imagine their general thrust. Xi probably instructed Kim to play hardball.
Great, if you get what you want. But, in all likelihood even Trump, the dealmaker-in-chief, will not grant you the complete lifting of sanctions.
No downside for Beijing
After all, as Xi is probably calculating, a Donald Trump retreating from Hanoi with empty pockets will make him even more prone to striking a trade deal with China.
Trump is now definitely under pressure to show the art of the deal is still alive. In the meantime, China and Russia will invest in North Korea and the United States will still be engaged.
Not a bad outcome for Beijing, in fact one with basically no downside.
Trump does China’s (and Russia’s) bidding
The Hanoi talks were meant to trade some form of sanctions relief by the United States for a freeze or dismantling of nuclear facilities in North Korea. What many Americans fail to realize, this is broadly what China and Russia want and is the foundation stone of any potential deal.
Perhaps there was a deal in the offing and either Trump or Kim pushed for more. Perhaps the two sides had misread what the other was willing to do.
Trump under pressure now
In his State of the Union address last month, Donald Trump took credit for saving millions of lives by averting a “major war” on the Korean peninsula.
Holding talks with a country that Americans, until recently, seemed to be close to war with, in a country where the United States probably suffered its greatest military defeat seemed perplexing to many in Asia — and hardly a good omen.
The Hanoi talks were not a complete failure. An agreement was struck to continue lower-level discussions to build on the momentum since the Singapore summit in June. China, and Russia too, will see this as an opening for further trade.
Trump’s short-term approach, his gushing praise of strongmen, his strident criticism of Europe, his relentless undermining of NATO and his obsession with image at the expense of substance is being used against him in the international arena.
Next: All eyes on China
This month sees the start of China’s two important political sessions, the meetings of the parliament and advisory body.
No doubt, as always, there will be little public debate and the applause and clapping will be more choreographed than spontaneous. But behind the scenes there will be fierce discussions concerning all aspects of Chinese life.
What matters to Beijing the most is a trade deal with the United States that it can sell as a success to the Chinese people.
Events in Hanoi have probably enhanced the possibility of this happening. Just two weeks ago, anyone suggesting that would have been considered naïve.
But now, it is readily apparent that the U.S. government needs China to help with North Korea and import more made-in-America products.
China, for its part, needs Americans to keep buying its goods and, given increases in productivity, preferably ever more of them.
Events in Hanoi, from Beijing’s perspective, ensure that this dynamic remains relevant and will provide the basis of a new trade deal.
The Hanoi summit a failure? Not from Beijing’s point of view.