North Korea and China: In Search of the Right Deal…

by | Mar 1, 2019 |

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The breaking news this week that President Donald Trump had walked away from his meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un two hours early and without signing an agreement, came as a surprise to many. Before the news broke, the concern among his supporters was that Trump would give away too much in his eagerness to strike a deal. His detractors, on the other hand, made it clear that whatever Trump did would fail, and would be cause for sharp and recurring criticism.   

They were all wrong, more or less. Trump did not give anything away, and he certainly did not fail. Trump did what he does best. Of course, those who have built their careers around hating the President will find fault with whatever he did. But any negotiator worth his salt knows that if you want to win in a negotiation, you must be willing to walk away from the table without a deal. Donald Trump, who wrote The Art of the Deal is a veteran negotiator. And walk away he did.

He walked away because Kim was unwilling to meet him halfway in these delicate and important negotiations. According to early reports, Kim demanded relief from sanctions imposed by the U.S., but insisted on that relief coming before he would begin any reductions in his country’s nuclear program. This from a man who has lied, and cheated, and broken his word on past agreements? No deal.

The biggest takeaway is that the President’s willingness to walk away from a deal with North Korea – any deal that did not meet America’s best interests – was a strong statement to China that he would be ready to walk away from that deal as well, rather than accept an agreement which is less than advantageous to the U.S.

Gordon Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China”, tweeted after hearing the news, “#Trump, by walking away, from a bad nuke deal, with #KimJongUn, will freak out #XiJinping. Xi was counting on Trump signing a trade agreement Beijing had no intention of honoring.“ WSJ called this “the Tweet of the day”.

According to Chang, China wanted to link North Korea with the US/China trade agreement, but without the NK deal, China has also lost any advantage it thought it had in the upcoming talks.

China has long been dependent upon its nation’s predatory policy of stealing American intellectual property for its own strategic and economic advantage. It was depending on a naïve Donald Trump to buy into the promises of a duplicitous North Korea. But China now has to deal with U.S. that is more savvy and stubborn than it expected. Trump has now put serious pressure on North Korea, and sent Kim back to the drawing boards. This in turn will now also put pressure on China, in the middle of promising trade negotiations, when its own economy is failing. China will suffer greatly from any new tariffs that will result from failed trade talks. China has to satisfy a demanding Trump. Trump has made that clear.

The President’s move has also sent an additional message to China, in light of its continued military appropriation in the South China Sea. Trump has sent a simple message to both North Korea and China. Don’t mess with the U.S. We will not accept your deceit or your duplicity, and we will demand fairness in any final agreement.

What is most likely, over time, is that North Korea will come back to the table under Chinese pressure, and a deal will eventually be signed with the U.S. that does not take American demands lightly, because it ensures oversight and forces compliance. China will also sign on to a fair trade agreement with the U.S., one that eliminates intellectual property theft and ensures a fair trade relationship, in which both countries will benefit.

Trump’s move was brilliant and should be applauded for its insight and strength. Walking away without a deal was clearly the smart thing to do. It may take time for all the pieces to fall into place – this is a very complex and delicate set of negotiations – but it looks like it will move forward in ways which the U.S. will benefit from fair and enforceable relationships with both North Korea and China. I will predict the following two developments to take place:

  1. North Korea will have to dismantle its nuclear arsenal and nuclear development program.
  2. China will have to agree to an enforceable trade deal devoid of loopholes that would allow continued IP theft.

Together, these two agreements have the potential to lead to a rich relationship between America and the two countries.

Ilana Freedman

Ilana Freedman is a veteran intelligence analyst with more than thirty years in the field. She was trained in Israel, where she lived and worked for sixteen years. After returning to the U.S., she served as CEO of Gerard Group International in Massachusetts, providing major corporations and government agencies with intelligence-led support for their homeland security programs. Her global network of specialists and field assets has provided her with an ongoing resource of critical, real-time intelligence and domain expertise. Today, Ilana is an independent consultant and author of hundreds of articles on terrorism and the geopolitical landscape. She has written four books on Islamic terrorism, and is currently working on a comprehensive book on China - past, present, and future.

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