Suddenly a global traveler, or at least a regional one, Kim Jong-un just arrived in Beijing for the third time this year in the wake of the summit meeting with Donald Trump. He will meet with Xi Jinping to discuss the status of talks with the US, and the recent trade-off of suspensions in military actions on the Korean Peninsula will be on the agenda. But will Kim expect a little quid pro quo?
The visit comes on the same day Washington and Seoul announced that they would suspend a joint military exercise in August, a move that will likely please the Chinese.
“We hope the visit will help deepen China-North Korea relations,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at his daily press briefing Tuesday. “[We hope the visit will] strengthen strategic communication between the two sides on major issues to promote peace and stability in the region.”
In a departure from his previous visits, Chinese state media announced that Kim would be visiting Beijing for two days just after he arrived in Beijing Tuesday morning, but offered no further details. On previous visits by North Korean leaders, including those of Kim’s father Kim Jong Il and grandfather Kim Il Sung, the news of the visits were not announced until after the they had left the country.
When asked why the visit was announced during Kim’s stay this time, Geng merely said that “specific circumstances around each visit have their own specific arrangements.”
The more likely reason is that Kim has become a little less paranoid after his summit with Trump. (It would hardly be possible for Kim to become more paranoid — recall the official pen wiper at the signing ceremony?) The North Korean dictator didn’t publish his travel schedule at all before the two prior meetings; in one case, his train suddenly appeared in Beijing after apparently eschewing air travel. With the sudden thaw between the two countries — small as it may be for now — Kim may feel as though he’s not setting himself up for an assassination by publishing his travel schedule.
Or maybe China has its own reasons for making Kim’s presence in Beijing known immediately. Having Kim and Trump directly interacting cuts Xi out of the loop, at least publicly. This might be a reminder that Xi is still pulling the strings in the region, and that Kim has to kiss his ring before taking any kind of action.
Ring-kissing may be precisely what Kim wants to do, too. As the Washington Post suggests, Kim may well be demanding some economic benefits for having convinced the US to suspend the joint military exercises that Xi dislikes just as much as Kim:
What has come out of the summit, so far, seems like a version of China’s “dual suspension” strategy — a plan that asks North Korea to suspend nuclear testing in return for a suspension of military exercises.
With testing halted, for now, and August’s war games off, China may be willing to cut North Korea some slack.
In Beijing, Kim is likely to ask Xi to ease up on economic sanctions — something the United States strongly opposes.
Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in Beijing at a news conference with Foreign Minister Wang Yi that China “acknowledged that the sanctions regime that is in place today will remain in place until such time as that denuclearization is in fact complete.”
If that’s the case, then Kim will be barking up the wrong tree, but that’s still an if to be considered. Denuclearization hasn’t yet begun, let alone completed, so if that agreement holds, Kim will come home empty-handed for now. However, Trump just imposed 25% tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods and is proposing 10% tariffs on $200 billion more. Their willingness to keep a hard line on economic sanctions might get impacted by the burgeoning trade war between the US and China, especially since it’s targeted at Beijing’s CM2025 strategy for dominance in the region.
Even if Kim hears ‘no’ for the time being, it’s not going to be too difficult for North Korea to play China and the US against each other in the future. When Mom and Dad are fighting, the kids know how to exploit that to get what they want from one or the other.