While at a Fourth of July Ball hosted by a U.S. Embassy abroad, I spoke with a member of the U.S. Special Forces at the event. He indicated that the U.S. military had been “ready to go to war” with North Korea, and that was what brought Kim Jong Un to meet with President Donald Trump.
His comments got me thinking: What did bring Kim Jong Un to the table?
While I lack the security clearance and military experience that this Fourth of July acquaintance carried, I maintain that more than the thought of our military might did the trick.
I believe Trump brought the North Korean leader to the table by putting immense economic pressure on China. When I brought this notion up with colleagues, they fiercely rejected my claims, saying Trump could never be the “secret master of foreign policy” that I supposedly implied that he was.
But the president acts far more strategically than many tend to acknowledge.
Imagine former presidents Barack Obama or George Bush ensuring the confirmation of all of Trump’s Washington outsiders, corporate executives, billionaires, and others that have sat in the presidential Cabinet thus far — let alone the eventual confirmation of the controversial Gina Haspel as his CIA director.
Now add the controversial executive order — the so-called “travel ban” — in which the president prohibited the entry of foreign nationals from certain Muslim-majority countries.
A mere month into his presidency, Trump saw many public protests, yet still was able to assemble and confirm through the Senate a Cabinet deeply hated by the left and issue his executive order that eventually withstood even the Democratic check of the Supreme Court.
I find that Trump used the left’s own anger against itself by throwing five things at the left he knew they would hate. Trump watched critics fail to stop any of his efforts in that first month. Thus, he acted strategically and intentionally to accomplish his goals.
Trump’s effectiveness in these areas leads me to believe that his trade war with China and his recent progress with North Korea are not unrelated.
China is North Korea’s greatest supporter, accounting for 90% of North Korea’s total trade volume, and most of its food and energy supplies, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. And that trade volume, although decreasing in 2017 and in 2018 (possibly due to American pressure), steadily rose from 2000 to 2016.
Although the bases for Chinese policy are relatively opaque, China’s support of North Korea likely roots itself in its strategic buffer role between China and the U.S.-friendly South Korea.
So when Trump threatens and executes tariffs impacting hundreds of billions of U.S. trade dollars and purchasing power, I would be shocked if Trump’s actions did not affect our efforts in talks with North Korea.
Consider that repeated sanction efforts on North Korea from previous administrations simply played into the North Korean narrative that it must continue to sacrifice all resources for the sake of self-defense from the Americans’ alleged war-mongering.
Recent U.S. trade policy against China, however, may have pressured China to decrease the flow of resources from Beijing to Pyongyang. Confirming this point, the fact that Kim made multiple emergency meetings with President Xi Jinping of China and his officials leading up to the Singapore Summit in June testifies to the ultimate authority that Xi exerts over Kim.
While the U.S.-China trade war meets a number of goals of the current administration simply regarding China, the fact that North Korea came to the table has set in motion talks with Kim on alleviating tensions in the area.
I personally hope the recent Singapore Summit with the U.S. will result in increased openness to recognizing the inalienable human rights of the still-repressed North Korean people. If playing a part in liberating a starving, oppressed population requires short-term protectionist trade policies against the U.S.’s largest trade partner, then bring it on.
Isaac Miller currently works in property development in the Asia-Pacific Region, where he responsible for content creation, collaborative marketing campaigns, and optimizing his company’s comprehensive Real Estate Report. In the past, Isaac has worked in the fields of social work, higher education, and has volunteered in international aid in the US and Germany, respectively. Isaac holds a Bachelor’s in Philosophy at Arizona State University and has studied at Thunderbird School of Global Management.
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