In the aftershock of the Trump-Kim mini-summit in the Demiltarized Zone, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that other important players, particularly Chinese President Xi Jinping, were warily eyeing the proceedings from afar. Indeed, Chinese actions in the days immediately preceding the historic DMZ handshake indicate some foreknowledge, or at least prudent calculation, of possible new momentum in the U.S.-North Korea relationship.

China’s relationship with North Korea was said to be “as close as lips and teeth” by Chinese leader Mao Zedong. But over the years the teeth have occasionally bitten the lips — as when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un purged Chinese-leaning elements, including his own uncle, among his leadership after taking power in 2011, or when China acquiesced to robust United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea.

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