The United States and China appear to have found some common ground in their negotiations over North Korea.
They are seemingly working closely together to create a much-needed momentum in handling the North Korean nuclear crisis following the summit between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping in Florida.
In particular, China is sending positive signals that it intends to contain North Korea from crossing the "red line" that can trigger U.S. military action against the North.
As for now, it looks like that Xi and Trump came to a mutual understanding that Pyongyang's nuclear development hurts their common interests in the region. In other words, Xi may respect Trump's doctrine of "maximum pressure and engagement."
After the summit in Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, major tourism companies in Beijing stopped selling package tours to North Korea. China's state media hinted that its government may go so far as to halt fuel shipments to the North, if necessary. Even then, China is unlikely to cut a lifeline to the North given the latter's strategic importance in its rivalry with the U.S., but such sanctions will surely damage the North's fragile economy and its operation of military forces.
Back in February, China suspended North Korean coal imports through the end of the year in accordance with a U.N. Security Council resolution against Pyongyang's fifth nuclear test.
If North Korea goes ahead with its sixth nuclear test as expected, this may prompt China to suspend or reduce its oil supply to the North.
In fact, China has taken advantage of international trade bans on Pyongyang to increase supplies of oil, food and energy to the Kim Jong-un regime. North Korea's economic dependence on China is heavier than ever. It is estimated that China now accounts for about 70 to 80 percent of the North's trade with the outside world.
North Korea cannot survive without support from China. This demonstrates a direct correlation between the North's economic subordination to China and China's decades-long "willful negligence" of the neighbor's belligerent behavior.
But China is showing a different approach.
While toughening its sanctions on Pyongyang, Beijing, at the same time, is calling for dialogue among concerned nations to find a peaceful solution to the nuclear problem.
Despite this, there are yet strong doubts about whether China does have the will to change North Korea. It must show sincerity first and commit to using its leverage fully to discourage the North from pursuing its nuclear development.
Trump has great expectations for China's increased role for regional peace with North Korea's nuclear development becoming an acute threat for the U.S.
In a tweet following the summit with Xi, Trump questioned why he would call China a currency manipulator when the two countries are working on the North Korean nuclear problem.
And on Tuesday, he said he has "great respect" for the Chinese president.
"We have a good chemistry together. He understands it (North Korea) is a big problem. He's working on it," Trump said. "We'll see what he can do. I think he's trying, but maybe he won't be able to help and that's a whole different story. So we'll see what happens."
For now, the U.S. may make a strategic choice to delay the planned deployment of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery, which has been a source of contention with China. This is viewed as a natural course of action to take for Washington to reduce tension with Beijing and give it some time to prove its sincerity in handling the North. For its part, South Korea must keep asking China to backtrack on economic retaliatory measures it has taken against the South since it decided to accept the U.S. missile-defense battery. Normalizing ties with Seoul could be a measurement of Beijing's sincerity.
Kim Jong-un will probably not back down. But if China cuts fuel, it is a whole different story. Only China can make him behave.