Why is China so concerned? Retired U.S. Navy Adm. James Stavridis, a former supreme allied commander of NATO and currently the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, said that “you could feel the air collapse in the summit balloon” after Kim’s appearance in Beijing.
“Clearly China wants to position themselves to be a driver in this process,” he said. “They encouraged Kim Jong Un to step back from the summit.”
Stavridis added: “The way this summit was moving, we were going to end up with a U.S.-North Korea summit, South Korea playing a bit part and China not even on the stage. That is unacceptable to President Xi.”
In recent days, Beijing has also provoked the U.S. by landing one of its bombers on a Chinese man-made island in the South China Sea, which is disputed territory. In retaliation, the Pentagon “disinvited” China Wednesday from participating in biennial military exercises in the region.
China’s Councilor Wang Yi, the country’s top diplomat, called that decision “negative” and “non-constructive” at a State Department news conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday. He said it was “unhelpful to mutual understanding between China and the U.S.”
Now, on top of escalating military tension and trade wars with China, the administration will also blame China for scuttling the president’s hopes for an historic agreement with North Korea.
By most accounts, the White House expectations were unrealistic and set too high. But the diplomatic fallout carries big risks. Many experts see South Korea’s Moon as the big loser, having received no warning from Trump that he was cancelling the summit today.
The South Korean leader, elected on a platform of North-South reconciliation, was heavily invested in the summit succeeding, even putting his reputation on the line by taking Kim Jong Un by the hand to jointly step across the Demilitarized Zone.