The Big Winner of the Singapore Summit

How China Ended Up Getting the Best Deal

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, June 14, 2018. Fred Dufour / Reuters

On June 12, all eyes were on U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, in the first ever meeting between the heads of states of the two countries. Although pundits debate whether it was North Korea or the United States that benefited the most from the summit, there was a less visible player that came out a clear winner: China.

China’s North Korea policy is primarily motivated by the desire to counter U.S. power in the region and increase Chinese influence on the Korean Peninsula. Along those lines, Beijing had two main objectives that came to fruition in Singapore.

Its first goal was reciprocal de-escalation on the peninsula. In September, the United States had rejected this “freeze for freeze” formula—that the United States would cease military exercises on the peninsula and in exchange North Korea would stop all nuclear-program-related tests. U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley had called the proposal “insulting” and the State Department had pushed back against the implication that legitimate and legal U.S.–South Korean alliance activities were equated to dangerous and rogue North Korean behavior.

China certainly made its agenda clear to Pyongyang. Last March, according to South Korean National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong, the North Koreans couldn’t have cared less about China’s dual freeze formula. Chung told Trump during a visit to the White House that Kim “understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue.” The following month, Kim declared a unilateral suspension of his country’s nuclear and missile tests, asking for nothing in return.

Trump's statement that the exercises were "provocative" and "inappropriate" could have come straight from the Chinese propaganda machine.

Then suddenly, in May, North Korea did an about-face, citing U.S.–South Korean military drills as the reason for its suspension of planned talks with the South. Kim’s change of heart was likely due to his meeting the

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