North Korea? Call the G2!
21 Aug 2017|

If Donald Trump can’t get a deal with North Korea, the only deal in town is with China. If not ‘fire and fury’ with Pyongyang, it must be a fix with Beijing.

A president keen to tear up the Iran nuclear agreement doesn’t want to create his own version of a deal with the devil in North Korea. Do something with China instead.

The G2—the group of two—must step from the shadows. Time for Washington and Beijing to build their condominium to shape Asia.

When Xi Jinping was pondering a ‘new type of great power relationship’ with Barack Obama, it amounted to a g2. Solving North Korea demands much more heft. The group of two can earn its capital letter.

Come the crisis, come the man. Maybe The Donald is the man. He’s going to need Beijing to deliver his famous television line to Kim Jong-un: ‘You’re fired!’ Time for the US president to channel another venerable bit of American television—Let’s Make a Deal.

In negotiating a grand bargain with Beijing, Trump is the rule-breaking leader who can put lots of the Korea chips on the table. Every US president since Truman has had to play the hand Truman bequeathed in much the way Truman did. Not Trump. He doesn’t like alliances.

In casting aside his Truman heritage in Korea, the president will ask Xi Jinping to junk his Mao Zedong inheritance in Korea. A G2 compact is the only sort of creation that could tempt Xi to do a Mao re-do.

The terms of a G2 contract/compact are simply stated: China denuclearises North Korea and renders it neutral. In return, the US military steps back from South Korea. The US alliance with South Korea stays, even as American forces leave. Simple to state and extraordinarily difficult to construct.

The hints of such a compact have been coming from Chinese thinkers for a while. And from America’s modern Metternich, Henry Kissinger.

In this US president, the mandarins and the Metternich may have found the man willing to dump Truman and do it the Trump way.

A settlement that removes US forces from South Korea looks like a victory in Trump world: nukes gone and regime changed. Our job is done here and our boys are home. Over to you, Xi.

Donald the dealmaker delivers a great America First outcome by treating China as a top-ranked equal. A grand G2 settlement must offer Xi much more than the bloody draw that Mao Zedong won by sacrificing his own son and so many others in Korea.

Xi isn’t going to be the Chinese leaders who loses North Korea and watches US forces march up to China’s border shoulder to shoulder with South Korea. That’s a huge strategic defeat for Xi—close to the prestige disaster of a Chinese leader losing Taiwan or botching Hong Kong.

So the G2 will have to do more than render North Korea neutral. The solution is going to have to have a South Korean element as a matching part. The Japanese have worried from the start about Trump the dealmaker. Tokyo feared Trump could ‘do a Nixon’. The Donald is the sort of president who can go into a room with Xi and strike a bargain without reference to anybody else, even the closest ally. Seoul could live that vision (or dream, or nightmare).

In sketching G2 scenarios, it’ll quickly become clear to Beijing and Washington that their condominium can decide and depose, even impose. But then the United Nations must be involved to bless the bargain and make it work. The deal will need a lot more weight than a handshake with Donald Trump. The first UN war must have the UN present at the settlement. The Security Council resolution that China agreed to on North Korea on 5 August is just the start.

Xi has to get a lot that can be made permanent if he’s to turn against the malign Marxist monarchy that Beijing has paid and protected. China must achieve many wins if it’s to junk Mao’s status quo in Korea.

Trump is going to have to offer Xi lots of face and plenty of favours. To start with, he’ll need to show uncharacteristic patience and give Xi time to complete the vital item on his calendar this year. Nothing can get in the way of Xi’s procession to the 19th Communist Party national congress. Much is on hold in China this year as Xi reaches for another 10 years in power, not the further five years that should be his lot under Deng’s settlement.

Once Xi settles that personal power issue by remaking Deng’s rules, he might just be ready to remake Mao’s heritage in Korea.

A G2 compact to refashion Korea would be power politics played as a US acknowledgement of China as its true equal. It’d remake the balance of power in northeast Asia as an expression of the new Chinese relationship with America. Kissinger, the modern Metternich, gives this outline:

An understanding between Washington and Beijing is the essential prerequisite for the denuclearisation of Korea. China may have an even greater interest than the US in forestalling the nuclearisation of Asia. Beijing risks deteriorating relations with the US if it gets blamed for insufficient pressure on Pyongyang. Since denuclearisation requires sustained co-operation, it cannot be achieved by economic pressure. It requires a corollary US–Chinese understanding on the aftermath, specifically about North Korea’s political evolution and deployment restraints on its territory. Such an understanding should not alter existing alliance relationships.

Trouble in the neighbourhood. Who ya gonna call? The G2!