LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The Trump administration is trying to manage two high-profile conflicts in Asia right now - a potential trade war with China and a possible real war with North Korea. And there, again, China is a key player. How are the two connected, though? And what, ultimately, does China want? Here to help us sort this out is Yun Sun of the Stimson Center. She's co-director of the East Asia program and director of the China program there. Welcome to the program.
YUN SUN: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to start with North Korea. The high-profile summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appears to be back on. How does China view these potential talks?
YUN: Well, China does want the Singapore summit to happen because the summit will represent the de-escalation of the tension, which China sees as intrinsically in China's national interest.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. I'm curious, though. The U.S. has sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to North Korea, and we just had the former North Korean intelligence chief at the White House. Does China feel like its role as the traditional middleman in this conflict is being undermined? Or are they still in this as a middleman but perhaps not as seen?
YUN: I will say that there is this significant worry, anxiety and concern in China about China being marginalized in this Trump-Kim summit because, like you said, China has been the middleman. But the Chinese seem to believe that because China is a signatory to the 1953 Korean War armistice - so the Chinese have been arguing that, legally speaking, China's role is indispensable. However, if you think about the legal sense, when you think about, politically and morally, can China really oppose and reject a peace treaty, if that is what's going to be announced? I don't think so.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. The Trump administration has suggested that China is actually being a spoiler in these negotiations. Do you see that as being true?
YUN: I do see signs of this - the intersection between these two negotiation or these two issues. And, honestly, I would not blame the Chinese because remember, back in 2017, it was President Trump who kept saying that if China helps us on North Korea, the trade deal they're going to get is going to be so much better. And guess what? The trade deal they feel that they're getting is not so much better. It's actually so much worse. When they look at the pressure the Trump administration has put on China since earlier this year, they see this timing to be highly curious because the moment the North Koreans de-escalated the tension and reach out to South Korea and reach out to the United States, the Chinese feel that the Trump administration has turned up the pressure on China related to the trade.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what do you think that their reaction will be? Because China, of course, has a lot of leverage on the U.S. economy.
YUN: They do have a lot of leverage over the U.S. economy. But vice versa, U.S. also has a lot of leverage against the Chinese economy. For example, the recently announced sanction or the punitive measures has been taken against the Chinese company ZTE - made the Chinese suddenly wake up and realize that, oh, we thought we were strong enough to challenge the United States. But one simple sanction announced by the U.S. administration - our ZTE is completely paralyzed. So I think this is a very good example to show that the trade war or the trade dispute is really a double-edged sword.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Yun Sun of the Stimson Center. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
YUN: Thank you, Lulu.
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