North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping, in Dalian, China in this undated photo released in May 2018.
KCNA via REUTERS

It was no surprise that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s first known meeting with a foreign leader since taking power in 2011 was his March visit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Over the last two decades, Kim and his father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il, have met more with Chinese leaders than with all other foreign leaders combined. As North Korea’s neighbor, largest trading partner, and most important patron, China is both the country most responsible for facilitating Pyongyang’s provocations and the one with the most to lose should the regime collapse—always a possibility for so shambolic a polity.

And yet in the months prior to U.S. President Donald Trump’s explosive announcement in March 2018 of a forthcoming summit between him and Kim—which still seems likely to happen on June 12—U.S. officials have assumed far too much responsibility for what is in large

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  • ISAAC STONE FISH is a Visiting Fellow at the German Marshall Fund, a Senior Fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations, and an international affairs journalist.
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  • ROBERT E. KELLY is Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy at Pusan National University.
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