“How the Hermit Kingdom Can Be Changed”President Donald Trump has ordered the US army to ‘stand ready’ for the fight against North Korea. Harsh words were exchanged between Trump and Kim Jong Un during the UN General Assembly session and later Trump promised to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea by taking military action. Kim Jong Un found Trump a ‘gangster playing with fire’. Trump also criticised China that if China is not going to solve the North Korean issue, the United States will solve it.Back channels and negotiations were held between Washington and Pyongyang, but there was no outcome and the United States suspended secret negations with North Korea, calling it a ‘waste of time’.At this stage, China was not taken as an interlocutor to negotiate between them. The China-North Korea tale is not as simple as it is frequently mentioned by leaders and analysts these days. All the tables in many capitals wrongly turned on China to use its leverage in resolving the North Korean stalemate. Beijing tries but there are certain constraints and limits and China understands its limits. The shadow of the Sino-Vietnamese war of 1979 also lingers on China’s role in North Korea. Washington often undermines these Chinese limits on North Korea and insists on ‘doing more’. China intervened in the Korean War in 1950 and saved North Korea and signed the treaty of mutual friendship and aid in 1961. Today there are discussions in Beijing to revoke this treaty.China did not side with the north in the Korean War because of the Communist love affair. Chairman Mao Zedong considered mountainous Korea as useful ground to fight back the American troops and the United Nations’ forces on the land than Taiwan divided by sea ruled by hostile General Chiang Kai-shek. The end of the Mao era, also ended China-North Korea Communist affair.Together, China and Japan can reform North Korea. The United States should stay at bay and just watch how things progress on that frontChina’s adaptation to economic reforms and opening up of its free-market base economy in 1978, was viewed unenthusiastically by North Korea as somewhat harmful and marked an end to Socialism. There was another ‘Cold War’ between Peking and Moscow in the 1950s and continued during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. North Korea was more aligned with the Soviet Union than with China. At one time, Kim Il Sung also doubted his trust on China in unifying the Korean Peninsula.North Korea is isolated diplomatically but it was China that accorded it a place. There have been frequent high level diplomatic exchanges when Premier Kim Il Sung visited China in 1953. Kim Jong Ill visited China eleven times until 1991. His successor Kim Jong Il visited twice in 2000 and 2004 respectively. The last high-level exchange was made in May 2011 when Kim Jong Il met with Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing. He also visited China in May and August 2010 and July 2006. In October 2005, 2009 and 2010, Premier Wen Jiabao visited Pyongyang.Kim Jong Un ordered the execution of his uncle Jang Song Thaek, the country’s chief interlocutor with China and a relatively reform-minded official. The relations are never smooth between the two countries since then. China adopts a harder stance and raises its voice with other major powers and at the United Nations condemning North Korean provocations.Pyongyang does not receive much needed diplomatic and economic support from Beijing any longer. Avoiding a fall out on China in case of a military eventuality against North Korea, China repeatedly calls for calm, restraint, and a negotiated settlement on the Korean Peninsula.From Mao to Xi relations with the DPRK have considerably changed. However, unlike both of his predecessors, Kim Jong Un never undertook any visit to China after becoming the Supreme Leader of the DPRK. Ever since China distanced itself with the DPRK to a large extent. This was major shift in DPRK’s relations with China. He missed out a chance to visit Beijing in 2015. Kim Jong Un was invited by China to participate at the 70th anniversary of the end of World War but he refused to make his first out-of-country visit as head of state because President Xi Jinping regretted to sit next to him on the reviewing stand at the parade.The relationship is not as close as lips and teeth any more. Kim Jong Un also disregards meeting important Chinese officials who are sent to Pyongyang for mutual consultations. A major irritant after the assassination of Jang Song Thaek, was the mysterious murder of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, Kim Jon Nam, at the Kuala Lumpur airport in February this year. These events changed the complexion of ties between Beijing and Pyongyang.What are the possibilities if the traditional relationship changes between China and North Korea? China is a free-market economy. It has an emerging global role to play in world’s politics. The coming Sino-Japanese normalisation could also influence North Korea and it may look for help in trade and investment. Together, China and Japan could reform North Korea. The United States should stay at bay and just watch how things would move around North Korea. The writer is Director of the China-Pakistan Study Centre at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. He writes on East Asian affairs Published in Daily Times, October 11th 2017.