In the wake of what US (and international) media celebrated as a diplomatic victory for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during last week’s US-North Korea summit in Singapore, Kim on Tuesday traveled to Beijing for a two-day visit, where he filled Chinese President Xi Jinping in on the details of his discussion with President Trump, according to NBC News. Kim’s visit comes a week after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with senior Chinese officials. According to initial reports, Chinese President Xi Jinping praised Kim for making headway with the US. According to Bloomberg, Chinese state television reported that Xi promised Kim that China would keep supporting North Korea, and Kim promised Xi that the North “would upgrade bilateral ties with China to a new level.”
Xi added that he hopes the North and the US will work toward peace on the Korean peninsula, and applauded the US’s decision to halt joint military exercises with South Korea. Such effusive praise from China’s leader is only the latest sign that Kim’s benefactor has perhaps been the driving force behind Kim’s bid for peace.
Here’s NBC News:
Chinese President Xi Jinping “is exerting a lot of influence from behind the scenes,” said Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Glaser said it was predictable Xi would want to be briefed by Kim directly about the North Korean leader’s talks with Trump.
“I expect they will talk about the path going forward and where priorities should lie,” Glaser said. Those priorities, from China’s perspective, would be to ensure that Beijing is included in any in peace treaty talks and for creating an environment on the Korean Peninsula that will make it unnecessary for U.S. troops to remain.
This is Kim’s third trip to China this year. He made his first foreign trip as head of state in March, when he traveled by train to meet with Xi in Beijing. China is North Korea’s largest economic ally and is responsible for 90% of trade with the isolated state. The suspension of US military exercises has been a policy goal pursued by Beijing and Pyongyang for years – and Xi is undoubtedly pleased at Kim having won such an important concession. But there was something else unusual about this summit that hinted at China’s dominance. As Reuters pointed out, China made the unusual decision of announcing Kim’s visit ahead of time, and stipulating that he would stay for two days. During previous visits, China would only confirm that Kim had visited with Xi after he had already left.
Still, Chinese leaders did take precautions to shield Kim’s visit from public view by erecting a large screen outside the East Gate of the Great Hall of the People, where Chinese leaders typically meet with foreign leaders. As the diplomatic efforts between the North and US move forward, we doubt this will be Kim’s last visit to Beijing. And if President Trump has his druthers, Kim might also soon be visiting another powerful capital.
But as we noted earlier, China could still scuttle the talks if it decides to retaliate diplomatically to the trade war with the US. Xi could order Kim to withdraw from negotiations, effectively undoing the progress that has been made.