NORTH KOREAN LEADER Kim Jong-un’s not-so-secret three-day visit to Beijing on March 25-28 dropped two markers ahead of Kim’s proposed meeting with US President Donald Trump in May.
The first is that China remains an integral part of any political settlement on the Korean peninsula. Beijing has long advocated multilateral talks to achieve that settlement. Kim’s proposal and Trump’s acceptance of a bilateral summit initially put Beijing on the back foot. The visit restored its balance. Special representative Yang Jiechi’s talks in Seoul with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday offer further evidence.
The second marker dropped by Kim’s Beijing visit is Pyongyang’s signal to Washington that Kim does not go into the meeting with Trump alone; he still has a powerful friend in China.
The atmospherics were one of the most notable aspects of the visit beyond the fact that it happened at all. The cordiality extended by President Xi Jinping to Kim belied the fact that neither had found reason to visit the other since coming to power (2011 in Kim’s case, 2012 for Xi) and that relations between the historically close neighbours were at a low ebb not least because of China’s unprecedented imposition of international sanctions on the Pyongyang regime because of its nuclear and missile tests.
Kim played his part in this show of restored fraternity to perfection, striking a delicate balance between the deference to be expected of a ‘little brother’ while remaining his own man.
This Bystander reflects on how adept Kim’s father and grandfather were at playing off China and the former Soviet Union against each other. We wonder if that gene has passed to the latest generation as Kim shuttles between summits with Xi, Trump and Moon regardless of what his true intentions remain.