When it comes to brokering a deal between North Korea and the United States, South Korean President Moon Jae-in is out and China’s Xi Jinping is in.
China started on the sidelines: It’s a dramatic reversal from months ago, when Moon looked on track for a Nobel Peace Prize for bringing the two parties together and securing both an historic summit between himself and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and later between Kim and Trump.
While China supported this effort, North Korea’s traditional ally seemed at risk of being sidelined, as Pyongyang looked south for support both economic and diplomatically.
Xi’s increasing influence: After the second Kim-Trump meeting fell apart in Hanoi without a deal, Xi’s influence has increased again.
Meanwhile, Pyongyang has tested short-range weapons and unleashed a propaganda broadside against Seoul, in apparent punishment for Moon’s failure to keep the peace process moving along and unwillingness to provide sanctions relief where Washington will not.
Where things stand now: Trump is in South Korea Sunday for his first visit to the Korean Peninsula since talks with Pyongyang began, and is expected to visit the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two countries, where he has teased that he may meet Kim in person.
While he has framed any potential meeting as more of a photo-op than anything else, the US President appears to be in a deal making mood, buoyed by a successful meeting with Xi at the G20 after which he rolled back some of Washington’s restrictions on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.
Xi appears to have gotten what he wanted then from the meetings in Osaka, it remains to be seen now if he will use his influence on Kim to get Trump something he wants in South Korea. The three leaders are in a diplomatic triangle, each relying on the others to get them what they desire.
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