The Xi-Kim Meeting May Be the Last Best Chance for No War With North Korea

In this photo released Wednesday, March 28, 2018 by China's Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping, second from right, and his wife Peng Liyuan, right, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, second from left, and his wife Ri Sol Ju, left, pose for a photo at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The Chinese government confirmed Wednesday that North Korea's reclusive leader Kim went to Beijing and met with Chinese President Xi in his first known trip to a foreign country since he took power in 2011. (Ju Peng/Xinhua via AP)

In this photo released Wednesday, March 28, 2018 by China’s Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping, second from right, and his wife Peng Liyuan, right, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, second from left, and his wife Ri Sol Ju, left, pose for a photo at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The Chinese government confirmed Wednesday that North Korea’s reclusive leader Kim went to Beijing and met with Chinese President Xi in his first known trip to a foreign country since he took power in 2011. (Ju Peng/Xinhua via AP)

 

Yesterday, it became official that North Korea’s chubby psychopath, the Rocket Man, Kim Jong Un paid a visit to Chinese President Xi Jinping after having been summoned to a meeting.

The visit amounted to Mr. Kim’s international debut: It was the 34-year-old leader’s first trip outside North Korea since he took power in 2011, and his first meeting with another head of state. The surprise discussions added another layer of complexity to the rush of global diplomacy around North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Kim told the Chinese leader that he was open to dialogue with the United States, including a potential summit meeting with President Trump, and was committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, according to an account published by China’s news agency Xinhua.

“If South Korea and the United States respond with good will to our efforts and create an atmosphere of peace and stability, and take phased, synchronized measures to achieve peace, the issue of the denuclearization of the peninsula can reach resolution,” Mr. Kim said, according to Xinhua’s summary of his meeting with Mr. Xi.

Here are some takeaways, as I see them.

First, Kim’s statements offer absolutely nothing new. These are the long used North Korean euphemisms for “the U. S. must stop military exercises and withdraw its forces from Korea, at which time we will be happy to discuss what we won’t do in regards to curtailing our nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program.” That said, it would have been earth-shattering if Kim had offered a new negotiating stance.

Second, Kim is getting nothing in exchange for meeting with President Trump. There is no sanctions relief offered by either the U. S. or by China.

Six months ago, the Quanhe checkpoint on China’s border with North Korea was a hive of activity and a vital conduit for trade helping Pyongyang finance its nuclear-weapons program.

Hundreds of vehicles queued up on the Chinese side each morning, bearing food, building materials and consumer goods bound for North Korea, to return later with North Korean exports of seafood, garments and coal.

Not any more. China, long criticized by the U.S. for supporting the North Korean regime, appears to be ramping up enforcement of international sanctions that Washington hopes will force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

A week-long tour of China’s border regions found that sanctions are hitting local Chinese businesses hard and starting to bite inside North Korea, with factory closures, price rises and power shortages in some areas.

The impact within North Korea is likely to intensify later this year as it runs short of foreign currency, and could trigger an economic crisis by 2019, according to visitors, researchers and foreign officials monitoring the country.

Kim tried to frame the discussion with Xi as showing that there was no daylight between the DPRK and China

China’s message was just the opposite.

I think China was sending a couple of clear messages. By summoning Kim to Beijing, it made it very clear that the DPRK is a client state, not a partner. And while Xi was satisfied with being sidelined during Kim’s Olympic gambit, the message is that the stakes of this meeting with Trump are simply too high and too important to allow Kim to operate independently.

For the U. S. it was a signal that China expects to be an integral part of any deal that may emerge from the Trump/Kim meeting. And China has its own agenda independent of North Korea:

This is how Trump framed the incident.

I think the acquiescence and encouragement of the U. S. for South Korea’s rapprochement attempt during the Winter Games and this upcoming meeting, brokered by the South Koreans, is most properly viewed as one of the last diplomatic gambits available to the U. S. before a decision has to be made on how to proceed with North Korea. In my view, these activities actually make possible a direct U. S. strike against North Korea’s nuclear capacity, the so-called “bloody nose,” without dragging South Korea into a very ugly, if short-lived war.

John Bolton and Mike Pompeo replacing H. R. McMaster and Rex Tillerson at the NSC and State, respectively, dramatically change the calculus on what will come out of the Trump-Kim meeting. Before last week, I had a lot of concerns that Trump would be prepped to give away the farm in order to give the appearance of doing whatever it took to avoid war. Now I think Trump is more likely to come away from the meeting as a visible skeptic of North Korea’s intentions.

On the whole, though, the Xi-Kim meeting, carried out as it was, is an indicator that perhaps China has tired of Kim’s games and it may present us with the last and best chance of rolling back North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.