BEIJING: As he prepares for his historic meeting with Kim Jong Un, Donald Trump is looking for his “Nixon in China” moment - the chance for rapprochement with a sworn enemy that leads to momentous geopolitical change.
And just as Richard Nixon’s meeting with Mao Zedong in 1972 was all about countering the Soviet Union, the current US president’s meeting with Mr Kim is all about China.
The people who will be most upset by news of Mr Trump’s visit to North Korea will be President Xi Jinping and leaders in Beijing. Until now, Mr Xi has managed to play the role of concerned uncle trying hard to rein in a recalcitrant child, all while doing almost nothing.
ALL ABOUT CHINA
For his part, Kim Jong Un must be jubilant, particularly since he seems to have made only minimal concessions to secure the meeting.
North Korea wants desperately to reduce its reliance on China for food and fuel aid and its leaders fear the rise of an increasingly assertive China more than anything else.
Over the millennia, Korea was repeatedly forced to serve as a Chinese vassal state and in recent years some in Beijing have toyed with the idea of regime change in Pyongyang.
On a visit to the isolated country in 2016, one of the most interesting revelations for me was the depth of animosity my official minders and the few people we were allowed to interview appeared to feel towards China.
In public, the Chinese government will cautiously welcome news of the impending presidential visit to the Hermit Kingdom, but behind the scenes it will do all it can to scupper the chances of a unified Korea falling into America’s orbit.
That is still a very distant prospect. North Korea is notorious for its ability to negotiate from a position of weakness — or “sell the same horse twice” — particularly when it comes to America.
With an eye on the fate of Libyan leader Muammer Gaddafi, who met a grisly end after abandoning his nuclear programme, it is unlikely Mr Kim will ever fully relinquish his atomic ambitions. And Mr Trump’s supreme confidence in his dealmaking abilities is not well supported by his record.
But it is hard not to admire the chutzpah of the US president’s decision to meet Mr Kim.
For all of Barack Obama’s high-flown rhetoric and Kennedy quotations about speaking to enemies, he was extremely cautious and conservative in his dealings with countries such as Iran and Cuba.
If Mr Trump, against all odds, manages to secure some sort of deal with North Korea, it will be a spectacular rebuke to his critics and his predecessor.
Of course, there is another parallel with Nixon that could derail everything. As the Mueller investigation ramps up and revelations of alleged collusion with Russia continue to mount, it is possible Trump will be too distracted or otherwise occupied to follow through on his North Korean rapprochement.
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