This is a chapter from FPRI’s E-Book “Beyond the Summit: Issues in U.S.-China Relations at, and After, Hu Jintao’s State Visit to Washington.” This chapter examines the role the North Korea problem played during the China-UN summit meeting in 2011. The author argues that it was a central and defining concern for the summit, that the Obama administration faced especially difficult challenges in dealing with China on the issue and that apparent progress in securing greater cooperation from Beijing is far from certain to endure.
One issue was of paramount urgency at the January 18-19 state visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to Washington: North Korea. Despite the usual scrutiny of language regarding human rights and even more attention than is customary to the economic promises at the summit, the backstage drama centered on North Korea. U.S. preoccupation with this issue had been building since Obama took office in the shadow of the breakdown in U.S.-North Korean bilateral talks under the rubric of the Six-Party Talks. Obama’s hesitancy to press China on other issues in 2009 could be largely attributed to this priority, and in 2010 the U.S.’s increasingly tough posture toward China was, above all, a reflection of North Korea’s worsening belligerence and China’s refusal to take it seriously. While Chinese ambivalence over cooperation in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program raised eyebrows and its hyperbolic rhetoric over sovereignty in the South China Sea and a fishing boat confrontation with Japan was met with stern rebukes, North Korea was the sole matter that the United States and its allies treated as a serious threat. … [Download PDF to read full article.]