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You can’t look at Trump’s North Korea moves without looking at China

President Trump set foot several feet into North Korea. Is that a big deal? No other president has done it. Was it a symbolic gesture? Yes. Did it provide a great photo op for the North Korean leader? Absolutely. Was it seen as a stunt by the mainstream media in the U.S.? Of course. Does anyone think credit would be given to President Trump for any action he takes? We are talking about a huge segment of the U.S. media that would cheer for the enemy during a fight if it meant they could blame the president.

I’ve spent years watching and analyzing the events in North Korea and spent some of my military years preparing for a conflict with that nation. I’ve looked at issues ranging from potential individual actions all the way up to nation-state conflict. Here’s the reality: Kim Jong Un is not the leader of a sovereign nation. He is, as his father was, the person who inherited the job of overseer of China’s primary proxy fighter.

To put it more bluntly, Kim Jong Un runs the rabid dog Beijing keeps on a short leash. To believe that at any level of government, North Korea is an independent nation that can be approached by any other nation without approval or oversight from China is simply naive. North Korea is and has been for decades a threat to world peace – a threat that was proven indelibly in one horrific war already. North Korea is and has been a tool for China to leverage against the United States. Push China too far, and out comes the rabid dog.

So, is it possible for Mr. Kim to commit to any agreement without first receiving guidance from his puppet masters in Beijing? Is it possible to pry North Korea away from the orbit of China?

The answer to both questions is a resounding no.

Would China go to war before it would accept North Korea ending up in a Western-dominated environment?

You can bet your bottom dollar on it.

Since North Korea is not a sovereign nation, the next logical question is: Why is the U.S. seemingly wasting its time talking to a puppet?

Perhaps the U.S. is using Kim as a leverage point on a much larger issue. Perhaps this is all about countering the long-term Chinese vision for the region.

When you’re involved in preparing for war, you understand the true purpose of North Korea. So once you know your enemies’ tactics, you must set a plan to counter them. Can the U.S. and others show the people of North Korea there is a better way of life out there? In the end, is the issue of North Korea about North Korean nuclear weapons – weapons China would never allow North Korea to use without approval – or is it about containing the Chinese dragon?

Is it better to threaten Kim Jong Un and win a few votes back home come election time, or is it far more effective to play nice with him despite anything he might say or do? How does Beijing argue with President Trump agreeing to take a few steps into North Korea? How would the Chinese government paint that in a bad light? Seen from my foxhole, that move was pure genius.

If Team Trump has figured out how to play to the weaknesses of the primary Chinese proxy tool in a way not based on threats of total destruction, then I suggest his team has found a path that might just work. Does it give the appearance of going soft, as in the Clinton, Bush, and Obama years? No. Those administrations had a sadly simplistic approach to North Korea: avoidance. Team Trump seems to be on a mission to create pressure between the puppet proxy kingdom and its overlords in Beijing.

If it is indeed true that Team Trump is approaching this with a “peace through strength” strategy to counter China – the real player in the theater – and not from one of weakness that so defined his predecessors, then how will we know if the plan is working?

Well, that answer was on display just last week when Xi Jinping, the leader of China, visited his puppet kingdom. CNN reports that it was the first time a Chinese head of state has visited North Korea in 14 years. It demonstrates that China needed to show not just Mr. Kim, but his military commanders, who really calls the shots for North Korea. Jinping knew President Trump might take advantage of the G-20 summit trip. How could he not show up to make sure key people know where they stand? Let the trade talks continue to go badly for China, and they are, and you will see the puppet leader do something newsworthy.

Can Xi Jinping order North Korea to completely walk away from President Trump’s efforts? Yes. Another ballistic missile test or the cancellation of talks with South Korea would be disastrous for the 2020 election bid. The reality is, the puppet nation is still a tool at the disposal of the number one thereat to the U.S. President Trump is taking a calculated gamble.

In the end, it’s not only about the nukes, folks. Divide and conquer: It’s a timeless game the U.S. better remember how to play.

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