Singapore summit: U.S. must avoid the trap

Weiqi has been played by hundreds of millions of people through the millenia in the East and continues to be an integral part of their culture today. In this game “the question of whether to take smaller profits now or build up influence for possibly greater gains later…is constantly arising.” [3] While the United States is distracted by quick, head-to-head interactions, denuclearization of North Korea (a status which can be reversed quickly), fits nicely into China’s and North Korea’s Weiqi-like strategy of building influence by going around barriers and taking a longer-term approach.

Taking advantage of the United States’ short attention span, China’s and North Korea’s plans have been executed over a long time so as not to draw attention to their overarching goals. Increasing the capability and number of ballistic missile launches while simultaneously developing nuclear weapons increased tensions in the region and created an international appetite for a non-military solution without overt Chinese involvement. Studying the disarmament of Libya, China and North Korea waited until the moment was right, then started their charm offensive.

Learning from Libya’s history, China brought Kim Jong-Un to China twice in recent months to ensure there would be no deviation from the plan. Starting with the Winter Olympics, followed by the return of three U.S. hostages, and the signal to dismantle a North Korean nuclear weapon test site, they created a U.S. “victory.” China and North Korea could consider those events as their own victory, however, because they reduced U.S. leverage and could entice U.S. President Donald Trump, eager to earn a Nobel Peace Prize, to offer additional concessions. While China may favor trade concessions, North Korea likely will favor diminished presence (and eventual complete withdrawal) of U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula. Neither Beijing nor Pyongyang may have to bargain for these concessions as budgets and regional and domestic political pressure do the work for them – another example of the long game. With U.S. forces diminished or absent from the Korean Peninsula and Chinese ties strengthened with the Philippines, this move would spell the eventual death of Taiwan’s relationship with the West.

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