Don't underestimate China's role in the next Trump-Kim summit

The President has enough pots boiling on the stove right now that it’s easy to lose track of them, but the situation in North Korea is still simmering away and requires some sort of eventual resolution. The next phase in this tricky diplomacy play still appears to be the pending summit between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The expected event came one step closer to becoming a reality following a meeting in Vietnam between officials from our two nations and Kim’s trip to China this week.

Kim’s most recent comments on the negotiations seemed to indicate that he wasn’t planning on any denuclearization progress in the near future, making these negotiations appear rather pointless. But now, after the meeting in Beijing, Kim appears to be singing a different tune. (Associated Press)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has reportedly told the leader of his only major ally, China, that he wants to “achieve results” on the nuclear standoff on the Korean Peninsula in a second summit with President Donald Trump.

The comments, contained in reports Thursday from Chinese and North Korean state media, came a day after Kim left Beijing on his special armored train for Pyongyang after a two-day visit to the Chinese capital.

Kim’s trip to China — his fourth in the past 10 months — is believed to be an effort to coordinate with Beijing ahead of a possible second summit with Trump. It comes after U.S. and North Korean officials are thought to have met in Vietnam to discuss the site of the summit.

This comes as something of an about-face after Kim’s New Year’s address to his nation. At that time he was insisting that the United States would have to demonstrate our willingness to make major concessions before offering anything himself. Now, after talking to Xi Jinping, he’s saying that he’s ready to “achieve results that will be welcomed by the international community.” He went on to say that North Korea would be, “sticking to the stance of denuclearization and resolving the Korean Peninsula issue.”

We can safely assume that Kim Jong-un has known all along that America wouldn’t be abandoning their own nuclear weapons arsenal or unilaterally pulling all of our troops out of South Korea. What Kim actually wants is significant sanctions relief and written assurances that he won’t be removed from power after standing down his nuclear capabilities.

So, assuming this isn’t just more window dressing and diversions, what’s changed in the past ten days? The only explanation is the China trip. Keeping in mind that China is North Korea’s only solid, powerful ally and Kim relies on them for much of his sputtering economy, Xi Jinping has significant leverage over North Korea. It’s conceivable that China is running out of patience with Kim’s handling of this process and decided to read the riot act to Little Rocket Man, telling him it’s time to advance this peace process.

China benefits greatly from having a stable North Korea on their border as a buffer zone between them and the more western oriented South Korea. Peace on the peninsula and the removal of the threat of mushroom clouds near their own border are desirable goals for the Chinese. If Xi Jinping has lit a fire under Kim’s butt to bring him back to the table and start tearing down his warheads and missles, he may wind up doing us a far bigger favor than any new trade deal.

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David Strom 2:31 PM on October 04, 2022
David Strom 1:31 PM on October 04, 2022