Thunderclouds Over the Honeymoon: Xi, Kim, and the Trump Summit

Amid the welter of diplomatic moves that have occurred in and around the Korean peninsula in 2018, the two meetings in quick succession between the North Korean leader and China’s eternally-consolidating leader, Xi Jinping, have been one of the more curious elements.

After a six-year hiatus from meeting foreign leaders at all, Kim’s mode of turning so suddenly back to China was indeed extraordinary. The Dalian meetings on May 7 and 8 included a beach walk in an area famous locally for wedding photos, giving the summit the feeling of a wedding party or perhaps a reunion of long-estranged mates. (Although, it must be noted, most honeymoon Facebook posts or missives home do not include phrases like “an in-depth exchange of views on important issues of mutual concern,” as the long-form PRC Foreign Ministry readout of the Dalian meetings did.)

In general both state medias portrayed the summit both as confirmation of their previous summit’s pledges for close coordination and as a heady fresh beginning to what would be a long and successful relationship.

[…]

Published responses by Chinese scholars to the cancellation of an inter-Korean meeting due to US-ROK military drills would appear to indicate that North Korea will have some support in Beijing for doing so. Zhang Liangui, a scholar at the Central Party School in Beijing at times has been harshly critical of Pyongyang, said in an interview that the “Rolling Thunder” American military drills with South Korea, under the current conditions of inter-Korean reconciliation, were clearly aimed at North Korea and would inevitably stimulate a response of some kind.  

In the same interview, Zhang went on to speculate that divergences were emerging between the US and North Korea in their high-level summit preparation dialogues about the specific steps that would constitute denuclearization (including the role of nuclear scientists), and that North Korean discomfort with the process (as well as possible mixed messages from the State Department and National Security Council) may lead the DPRK to use the military drills as a pretext to cancel or forestall the talks with Trump.

For the full version of the essay, see NK News (subscription required).

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