US could struggle to re-isolate North Korea as Kim turns to China for help with economic transformation


As reported by Reuters, US President Donald Trump could find difficulties re-isolating North Korea if the upcoming Trump-Kim summit takes a turn, as North Korea's leader has been seen making economic planning pals with China's Xi Jinping.

Key quotes

"U.S. President Donald Trump may have promised that North Korea will become “very rich” on the back of American investment if Pyongyang ditches nuclear weapons but economists and academics who have studied the isolated country say it is China not the U.S. that will be the engine of any transformation.

The nearest template would not be based on American-style capitalism, but China’s state-controlled market economy first championed by Deng Xiaoping, who became China’s leader in 1978, these experts said. And in the run up to the unprecedented summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday in Singapore, it has been China that Pyongyang has been increasingly turning to. Kim has made two visits to meet Xi since March, while a high-level delegation from his ruling Workers’ Party toured China’s industrial hubs in an 11-day visit in May that focused on China’s high-tech urban transport and latest scientific breakthroughs.

That delegation went to China only weeks after Kim declared an end to nuclear and missile tests and vowed an all-out effort toward “socialist economic construction.” Chinese media labeled Kim’s announcement North Korea’s “opening and reform”, shorthand for Deng’s policies, sparking a flurry of investment in housing in Dandong, the Chinese border town.

“Kim is talking to Trump because he needs to get the United States to back off sanctions. After that, headlines will be all about Kim and Xi Jinping,” said Jeon Kyong-man, an economist at the Institute for Korean Integration of Society, with reference to the Chinese president.

Across the region, there are signs that U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign of “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons is weakening ahead of his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on Tuesday.

Trump, along with leaders like South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, have credited the pressure campaign with bringing Kim to the negotiating table through a combination of international sanctions, political isolation, and threats of military action. However, unless there is a major provocation or resumption of nuclear testing or missile launches by North Korea, strategists and academics say it is unlikely that maximum pressure will ever fully return. “Trump’s campaign is over,” said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy. “The diplomatic openings with North Korea have already been taking a toll on the maximum pressure campaign.”

Preparations are already underway in China, South Korea and Russia, which share land borders with North Korea, for better ties with the isolated nation.

Diplomats say all the major players, including Russia, China, and South Korea, are expected to continue to enforce the letter of any United Nations sanctions. Beyond sanctions, U.S. officials say they successfully persuaded more than 20 countries to downgrade or end diplomatic ties with North Korea. Some of that political isolation has been reduced, however, by Kim Jong Un’s meetings with leaders of China and South Korea, and this week’s summit with Trump."

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