On Friday and Saturday, President Obama will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Sunnylands Resort in Rancho Mirage, California. Both governments have sought to portray this weekend as an opportunity for Obama and Xi to build their relationship on a more casual, informal level. This marks a departure from past US-China summits, which have been, for the most part, “dour, orchestrated affairs conducted by teams of men in dark suits.” However, while this has been billed as a “shirtsleeves summit,” that does not mean that important business is off the table. Rather, Obama and Xi are expected to discuss a range of issues highly relevant to the Sino-American relationship, including Chinese cyberespionage, territorial disputes in East Asia, and – most importantly in the eyes of Nukes of Hazard – North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
Below is a roundup of some relevant news stories and analyses that will give you a better idea of the current state of the US-China-North Korea triangle, and what to expect from this weekend’s summit.
China’s Hardening Stance Towards North Korea
North Korea’s nuclear test in February, coupled with its missile launches in May, have reportedly frustrated many Chinese officials, and have prompted the Chinese government to take a tougher line towards its longtime ally.
• As pointed out by a recent report from the Associated Press, while China remains wary of taking any actions that could result in a collapse of the North Korean regime, it has taken several punitive measures in response to the Kim government’s recent provocations, such as supporting tougher UN sanctions against North Korea in February, and shutting accounts that North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank had opened in Chinese state banks
• According to a June 4 article by Reuters’s Benjamin Kang Lim, during recent bilateral talks, the Chinese government implored North Korea to stop its nuclear and missile tests, which the PRC officials said “put China in a difficult position and are not conducive to (North) Korea.”
North Korea’s Continuing Defiance
However, despite increasing pressure from the US, China, and the rest of the international community, North Korea has given no indication that it plans to scale back its nuclear ambitions.
• From a May 27 article in the Wall Street Journal: “North Korea’s state media on Sunday reiterated Pyongyang’s commitment to building nuclear weapons, dousing limited hopes that the isolated state might engage in talks about its nuclear program under pressure from China.”
• On May 17, a UN panel found that international sanctions are, indeed, slowing down North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons. However, on June 3, a study from Johns Hopkins’s US-Korea Institute asserted that the DPRK could be able to restart production of plutonium in one or two months.
What Should/Will the “Shirtsleeves Summit” Accomplish?
The US-China-North Korea dynamic seems to be in a state of mild evolution. What does this mean for this weekend’s meeting between Presidents Obama and Xi? It depends on who you ask:
• Some analysts believe that the summit should serve merely as a foundation for future Sino-US cooperation on the North Korean issue:
— In a June 5 op-ed for The New York Times, Gi-Wook Shin, Thomas Fingar, David Straub argue that, “Obama should use this first encounter to focus on underscoring for Xi where U.S. and Chinese interests on the Korean Peninsula overlap,” in the hopes of creating a “trajectory of increasing Chinese cooperation in dealing with Pyongyang.”
• Other analysts believe that more substantive successes could be achieved at the summit:
— In an interview this past Tuesday with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, former US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell asserted that President Obama would see success on the North Korean issue, arguing that, “…the Chinese have just about have it with North Korea.”
• Others, however, are urging caution:
— Over at Foreign Policy, Issac Stone Fish writes that, “China watchers in Washington don’t expect much in the way of concrete ‘deliverables,” and quotes Asia expert Victor Cha as saying that, “We have plenty of things where we want nine yards, and we don’t get that – we get four yards, if we’re lucky.”