Yesterday we looked at the rumors of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un visiting China and what that might portend. It didn’t take very long for the story to be confirmed. Kim was indeed in China meeting with President Xi Jinping and being treated to all the honors normally accorded a visiting head of state. After the meeting the two leaders made a joint announcement of how it had gone and North Korea delivered a startling pronouncement, saying that Kim had assured China that he’s interested in denuclearization, in addition to calming tensions on the peninsula. (Reuters)

China said on Wednesday North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to denuclearize the Korean peninsula during an historic meeting in Beijing with President Xi Jinping, who promised China would uphold its friendship with its isolated neighbor.

After two days of speculation, China and North Korea both confirmed on Wednesday that Kim had visited Beijing and met Xi during what China’s official Xinhua news agency called an unofficial visit from Sunday to Wednesday…

“The issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved, if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realization of peace,” Kim said, according to Xinhua.

If this were something we could simply take at face value it would be huge news. Unfortunately, there are more than a few reasons to exercise caution before anyone gets too excited about this announcement. One is North Korea’s well established history of saying things everyone wants to hear when they’re badly in need of cash or food and then turning around and abandoning their promises and commitments when it suited them. Further, as Fox News reported later in the evening, Kim wasn’t putting out a message that he was even willing to share with his own people. The coverage on state television in North Korea contained no video or current images from this meeting and the released statement made no mention of Kim’s comments about denuclearization.

Is that really surprising? Kim Jong-un has been working his people into an anti-western frenzy since the day he took power. He’d convinced them that the only way to protect their nation from the demons of the west was to pour all their resources and energy into developing a nuclear weapons program, even if it meant that droves of them would have to starve to death to achieve that goal. Turning around now and simply giving up those nukes probably wouldn’t go over well with his starving, isolated population.

As for the United States’ response, President Trump was on Twitter this morning showing some signs of hope while still insisting on continued pressure on North Korea until some concrete progress is seen.

Here’s the problem with that whole “maximum pressure” idea. It only works when China cooperates. The rest of the world can tighten the screws on Kim to a certain degree, but China was always cutting deals in the background and keeping North Korea afloat with trade, food and cash. It was only when Kim started launching ICBMs and ramping up his weapons testing that China finally cracked down. That’s probably what led Kim to at least look like he’s coming to the table. If this olive branch is enough to get China to loosen up their own enforcement of the sanctions yet again (either officially or on the black market), Kim Jong-un will have won another reprieve and bought himself more time.

If he actually did abandon all of his nuclear facilities in a verifiable fashion it would certainly be a game changer. But color me skeptical as to the chances of our seeing it happen in Kim’s lifetime.