The White House is impatient for Chinese President Hu Jintao’s Jan. 19 state visit, but not to talk about China. Instead, the critical agenda item is North Korea. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg recently led a delegation to Beijing seeking help in persuading Pyongyang to cease its provocations. Publicly, Beijing has stood by its neighbor through it all, from the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in May to the lethal shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November. Privately, though, U.S. officials are convinced, China’s support is wearing thin.
But how thin? In order to resume nuclear talks with the North despite near-certain Republican opposition, the administration needs serious concessions from Pyongyang. Among the U.S. proposals: Pyongyang needs to make a major gesture of reconciliation to the South, and to allow international inspection of its Yongbyon uranium-enrichment facility. Hu is expected to bring Pyongyang’s response in person.