Donald Trump will meet with Chinese president Xi Jinping on Thursday at Mar-a-Lago, and though the White House have attempted to manage expectations ahead of what they say will be a “framework for discussion,” there’s something more than international trade on the agenda.
That something is North Korea, the communist nation and Chinese ally who just launched yet another medium-range ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan on Tuesday in a move that seemed designed to provoke Trump, and America, ahead of the meeting with Jinping.
This is not exactly a new tactic, but considering Trump’s recent rhetoric on China’s position vis-a-vis North Korea—he told the Financial Times that he would be prepared to deal unilaterally with the small nation if China didn’t agree to help—this could be a great deal more serious than previous iterations of the brinkmanship in which Kim Jong-Un, his father, and his grandfather have engaged for decades.
In recent days, a high-level North Korean defector said that Kim Jong-Un would use ICBMs and possibly nuclear weapons against the U.S. if he felt threatened. Putting aside the issue of whether North Korea currently has that capacity—most experts think they could hit American military bases in the Pacific, but not the mainland—it stands to reason that an erratic leader like Kim, with his back to the wall, would take that kind of enormous step. In combination with a combative enemy like Trump, military conflict now seems more likely than ever.
The question is, how would China handle such action? Are they bound to defend, either militarily or with economic aid, a fellow communist nation that must now seem like a burden? Or is China’s involvement in the global capitalist community now so complete that they’d be willing to cut the North Koreans loose? It’s unlikely we’ll have any firm answers after Thursday’s meeting between Trump and Xi, but North Korean leadership seems intent on pushing the potential conflict to a conclusion—even if it’s one that doesn’t end in their favor.