Reports on the Sunnylands Summit between Xi Jinping and Barack Obama last week have hailed progress in Sino-American cooperation on North Korea. That’s fair enough, but to understand what that progress consisted of-and what it did not-it might be useful to step back for a moment and place it in the context of recent history.
For a period of time starting in George W. Bush’s second term, it seemed as though US-PRC cooperation on North Korea policy stood out as, in effect, a poster child of shared national interests and coordinated national efforts. It wasn’t that the two countries had identical goals or priorities; from a strategic perspective they did not. Even so, both insisted on denuclearization of the DPRK and both sought to resolve the matter through diplomacy and avoidance of conflict on the Korean peninsula.
However, with the sinking of Cheonan and the attack on Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, China appeared to have made a major policy decision to protect Pyongyang from external criticism and pressure, even at the cost of goodwill in South Korea and complications in Sino-American relations. One presumes this may have had something to do with concerns in Beijing about the fragile state of the North, especially in the wake of Kim Jong Il’s stroke in 2008.
To read the full op-ed, click here.
This op-ed first appeared in 38 North on June 14, 2013.
Photo courtesy of the White House