Leaders from across the globe will gather in Washington from March 31 to April 1 for the fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit.
They will discuss multilateral efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism and the smuggling and proliferation of nuclear materials.
There are a number of things that all can agree on. Among them, that nuclear weapons in the hands of sub-state actors is a bad thing, and that safeguards should be taken to ensure the security of nuclear arsenals in states where political stability cannot be taken for granted. But, as with most summits of this nature, this gathering will not bring about enforceable measures on a multilateral level. The real substance to be found at the summit will emerge from the meetings taking place on the sidelines.
One event to watch will be Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting at the White House with President Obama. This will be the two leaders’ first meeting in 2016, and is likely to be Mr. Xi’s final visit to Washington before Mr. Obama leaves office.
Much of the discussion will revolve around the recent advances in North Korea’s nuclear program. North Korea is working to build up the credibility of both its developing nuclear deterrent and the leadership of Kim Jong-un in the lead-up to this year’s Congress of the Workers’ Party in Pyongyang.
Beijing’s inability to influence North Korea is increasingly obvious.
What’s more, China is unwilling to impose punitive measures on North Korea that might cause instability along the countries’ shared border. Pyongyang’s nuclear advances have invigorated bilateral defense ties between the United States and South Korea, as well as multilateral defense ties between the United States, South Korea and Japan.
Notably, Mr. Obama will hold a joint meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the same day he meets with Mr. Xi.
For evidence that China is worried that growing military connections between the United States, South Korea and Japan will undermine its security imperatives in the region, one need only look at Beijing’s repeated objections to talks that began in March between Washington and Seoul over the possible deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile defense battery in South Korea.
Mr. Xi will also use the opportunity to discuss with Mr. Obama rising tensions in the South China Sea, particularly regarding U.S. freedom of navigation operations, which have become routine.
Washington uses these operations to challenge Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea. If the United States adheres to its plan of two freedom of navigation operations per quarter, the second operation of the first quarter will take place soon, adding to the already tense dialogue surrounding the South China Sea.
• This analysis was originally published by Stratfor, a leading global intelligence and advisory firm based in Austin, Texas.