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China-N. Korea ties under Trump

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By Lee Seong-hyon

With "Trump America" in place now, one of the areas that the East Asian geopolitical analysts pay attention to is how the Trump variable would enter into Sino-North Korea relations. First, China is wary that the tough-talking Trump may take a much harder line toward North Korea that may, in turn, "destabilize" China's strategic neighborhood environment.

Beijing has a habit of suspecting that Washington gets tougher on North Korea when it wants to warn China. This might sound odd to outside observers, but "this pattern" is a well-entertained item among regional strategists. It also reveals how China identifies its geopolitical vulnerability more aligned with North Korea, than with the United States. At the extension of the logic, it also underscores the potential limitation of cooperation Washington wants to have from China, so as to jointly deal with the regional pariah. That won't happen, however, to borrow Trump's New Year's resolution on North Korea.

In fact, when Trump blurted "That won't happen" as a reaction to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's threat of test-launching an ICBM (with an obvious connotation that its reach could hit continental America), it was China that was also alarmed. Trump's swift Twitter warning against North Korea's seemingly unstoppable ICBM libido was perceived by China as a firm deterrence posture by Washington on the matter.

A North Korea-fired ICBM landing on American soil is tantamount to hurting U.S. "core interest," a Chinese analyst observed. The term, "core interest," is jargon with a specific definition when it is used in the Chinese security context. According to the Chinese Communist Party, "core interest" is the top-level national interest among the three interests (core, major and general). Specifically, it is an interest the "nation's survival" (guojia de shengcun) depends on, and therefore there can be "no room for compromise" (burong tuoxie).

So, China's perception of attaching a cardinal graveness to North Korea's possible ICBM launch and America's possible retaliation makes Beijing jittery, as it destabilizes China's backyard. Furthermore, this warning came from the mouth of Trump – a human being China finds inhumanly challenging to pin down, let alone predict.

China expects the Trumpian push on Beijing to restrain Pyongyang, to be more demanding than Obama's. Trump said China has "total control" over North Korea. "China should solve that problem," he declared.

Whether China really has that level of leverage over North Korea is debatable, but what matters is Trump's "thinking" on the matter. He is now the president of the United States (despite some Americans' denial). Trump's thinking will have decisive policy implications........

© The Korea Times