But American officials only hear the last part as Evan Osnos reports in the New Yorker on his recent trip to China: Why China Won’t Pressure North Korea as Much as Trump Wants.
Read more about Osnos’ interviews with Chinese scholars about the confrontation between North Korea and the United States. Below are the closing excerpts.
In recent years, overly hopeful U.S. politicians and commentators have repeatedly misunderstood China’s views of North Korea and assumed that Beijing was, at last, turning against its irksome ally. In private meetings with President Obama, and later with President Trump, Xi has repeated a bottom-line principle about North Korea: “No war. No chaos. No nukes.” A former U.S. official, who was at several of those meetings, told me, “Every American senior official that I know hears, ‘Blah, blah, blah—no nuclear weapons.’ And thinks, ‘Oh, we agree! Excellent!’ So the Chinese ought to be willing to limbo under this bar for us. But, no, that’s third in the list of three strategic priorities. The first two are avoiding war on the Korean Peninsula, and avoiding chaos and collapse.” In that spirit, China has sought to limit the scope of U.S.-backed sanctions in the U.N. Security Council. In the latest round, earlier this month, China succeeded in forcing the U.S. to drop its pursuit of a full oil blockade, which China fears would drive North Korea to collapse.
Nothing worries Chinese officials more than the following scenario: the U.S. uses harsh sanctions and covert action—and possibly military strikes—to drive North Korea close to the point of regime collapse. In turn, Pyongyang lashes out with violence against America or its allies, sparking a full-blown war on China’s border, just as China is trying to maintain delicate economic growth and social stability. Xi, in separate sessions, has offered Obama and Trump the same Chinese adage in reference to North Korea: “When a man is barefoot, he doesn’t fear a man with shoes.” In other words, even if attacking America would be suicide for North Korea, if it sees nothing left to lose, it just might do the unthinkable. For that reason, China, above all, wants the U.S. to avoid backing Kim into a corner from which he has no exit.
Trump is fervently seeking China’s coöperation, but, ironically, his rhetoric and aggression may be putting that further out of reach. On Sunday, Trump mocked Kim as the “Rocket Man.” Members of his Administration have repeated their openness to “military options,” despite projections that air strikes, or other attempts at targeted attacks, could spark a wider war. Chinese intellectuals have taken to joking that “Telangpu”—which is one of the Chinese pronunciations of Trump’s name—sounds like “te meipu,” which means clueless or lacking a plan. In recent months, Trump has alternately praised China and threatened it with a trade war. “I don’t understand Trump,” Shen, the historian, told me. “One day he is saying something good about Xi Jinping and the next he is criticizing him. *Trump is becoming more and more of a problem. China is becoming more and more stable.*”
Trump’s unhinged rant at the United Nations - covered by AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona: Donald Trump beats the drums of war at the United Nations - is an example of the “problem.”