Uncertain Futures: China, Trump and the Two Koreas

By Yun Sun
in Program

At the beginning of the Trump administration, the situation on the Korean peninsula is highly uncertain and potentially volatile. During a late January research trip to Beijing, “uncertainty” and “concerns” were the keywords that best characterized how Chinese scholars and officials are feeling about Trump and the two Koreas. During his presidential campaign, Trump suggested that he would be willing to negotiate with North Korea directly. However, that scenario has become more uncertain in recent months, especially given the hawkish instincts of President Trump and his national security team. Chinese analysts nonetheless expect the US to enlist Beijing’s support on the North Korea issue and are anxiously waiting for Washington to engage so that China can bargain for its preferred outcomes. The prolonged silence from the administration is making Beijing increasingly uncertain and uncomfortable, and complicating its plans to reduce the threat that the United States and its network of alliances in Northeast Asia poses to Chinese security and strategic influence.

Between 2013 and 2016, China tested an alternative alignment strategy on the Korean peninsula. Frustrated with North Korea’s brinkmanship continuously damaging Chinese security interests, President Xi Jinping placed his hope on South Korean President Park Geun-hye to improve China’s strategic position. At the heart of this scheme was an effort to turn South Korea into China’s “pivotal” state in Northeast Asia, thereby undermining the US alliance system in the region and diminishing its threat to China. As a result of Sino-ROK rapprochement, senior-level visits soared, bilateral economic ties strengthened and many South Koreans questioned the utility and future of the US-ROK alliance. In an ideal scenario, China’s new realignment strategy would defeat the US-orchestrated “Northeast Asia NATO” based on America’s alliances with Japan and Korea, and counter the US-Japan alliance with an alignment between China and both Koreas. From the Chinese point of view, this would not only reduce China’s vulnerability vis-à-vis the US, but also lay a firm foundation for Chinese regional predominance.

This article was originally published by 38 North on February 9, 2017. Read the full article here.

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