In the sudden rush of diplomacy involving North Korea, China has appeared to have the upper hand, hosting the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, twice before his long-anticipated Singapore summit meeting with President Trump even begins.
Yet as Mr. Kim prepares to finally meet Mr. Trump in Singapore on Tuesday, some analysts say Beijing appears to be getting a sudden case of the jitters.
They say the Chinese leaders, who are unused to being on the outside looking in, are growing anxious about whether they can keep their Cold War-era ally firmly in its current orbit around China. Leaders in Beijing are worried, experts say, that Mr. Kim might try to counterbalance China’s influence by embracing the United States, North Korea’s longtime enemy.
According to analysts, Mr. Kim may seek to do this by offering Mr. Trump some sort of deal, which would probably include some pledge to scrap his nuclear arsenal in exchange for American help to reduce or even eliminate North Korea’s near total dependence on China.
“If you look at history, North Korea is not sure of China, and has a kind of revenge mentality,” said Shen Zhihua, a prominent Chinese historian on North Korea. “The worst outcome is that the United States, South Korea and North Korea all get together and China gets knocked out.”
Analysts said China worried that the United States could also use the Singapore meeting to engineer a united Korean Peninsula that joins the North with South Korea, one of Washington’s closest allies. For China, that raises the uncomfortable specter of American troops on China’s doorstep, erasing North Korea’s traditional role as a buffer.
There is even the remote possibility that North Korea could flip allegiances, just as China did in 1972. When President Richard Nixon visited Beijing that year, Mao Zedong further distanced China from the Soviet Union in favor of friendship with the United States.