President Trump will be jet-setting from Quebec to Singapore this week, leaving the tumultuous G7 Summit for what could be an equally bumpy meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore.

Let’s take a look back. Prior to the G7, President Trump announced new tariffs on steel and aluminum that threaten to spark an all-out trade war between the U.S. and our closest allies – like Canada and the EU.

This is just the latest move in a series of decisions by the Trump administration that is widening the gap between the U.S. and our allies in the G7. From pulling out of the Iran Deal and the Paris Agreement, to major differences over Russia’s influence in the world, these new tariffs reinforce, especially for our transatlantic allies, America’s inability to decide if we want to be engaged in the world. As I told PBS Newshour (which you can watch below) and MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the distinctions between the U.S. and our allies are widening, not closing, and that should be greatly feared.

Possibly even more shocking than the sparks of a trade war were President Trump’s remarks that Russia should be invited to rejoin the G7. As a reminder, Russia was kicked out of the G8 (creating the G7) because of its invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. At this point, Russia hasn’t done a thing to redress the situation. In the end, do we want to find a way to live alongside Russia? Or course, but as I told Alex Witt on MSNBC, it’s premature to suggest that rejoining the G7 is a way to go about that.

Moving from west to east, as we approach the Singapore summit between Kim Jong-un and President Trump, it’s important to remember there is a larger, strategic agenda at play that is centered around China and is far less visible to the public.

What are China’s long-term plans? And how should American leaders react to this strategic challenge, even as they try to deal with the tactical threat of North Korea?

The real strategic centerpiece in East Asia is not the Korean Peninsula, although it is quite important. The true crowning jewel is the vast South China Sea, a body of water not much larger than the Caribbean, and which boasts millions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas beneath its waters. Even more important, a third of all global shipping passes through its international waterways. It is arguably the most strategically valuable large body of water in the world — and China claims it almost entirely as territorial waters.

China is playing the long game indeed. While the Pentagon is excited about developing a new five-year plan, the Chinese are thinking about how the region comes out in 200 years. They have three crucial strategic objectives in the region, which they will continue to hammer home. They want:

  1. Undisputed control over the South China Sea, principally for the hydrocarbons;
  2. To consolidate Chinese influence around its periphery; and
  3. A divided Korean Peninsula so they can maintain dominant influence in the north and check the U.S. influence in the south.

China will use the Singapore summit to further these ambitions. For Beijing, the best outcome would be an agreed framework that puts off any actual relinquishment of North Korea’s nuclear weapons into the distant future. This will ensure the long-term survival of the Kim regime and the continuation of a divided peninsula.

For the U.S., the best outcome includes China and bringing the nation into four-party talks with North Korea as quickly as possible. Beyond that, U.S. negotiators and President Trump should be pushing for a formal end to the Korean War. Above all, the President must avoid giving ground (or in this case, giving up water) in the South China Sea to get a low-value deal out of North Korea. Doing so, while tempting in the short term, would give China an immense and far-reaching advantage in the region. I spoke with Hugh Hewitt about several aspects of the summit, and you can listen to the interview here.

As I wrote in Bloomberg, it’s clear that the U.S. has some difficult choices ahead. In order to move forward diplomatically, the White House will have to give some ground on the idea of immediate and complete denuclearization. Kim will not agree to give up his weapons overnight and China won’t want to see that, so rather than crater the summit, the President would be well-advised to settle for half a loaf now, with at least lip service to more in the future.

This is a big agenda, but achievable. As always, thanks for reading.

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