Speculation is brewing that Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet Kim Jong Un, the young leader of North Korea, before visiting Osaka for the upcoming G20 summit late this month. With the communist regime refusing to have any dialogue since the fiasco in Hanoi, Mr. Xi’s visit could serve as an event to bring about subtle change in the diplomatic landscape in North East Asia.
It is hard to verify the visit before an official announcement as both Beijing and Pyongyang consider secrecy as a diplomatic courtesy. Pundits expected that President Xi would visit Pyongyang in return soon, given that Kim Jong Un has already visited China four times, but it has been put off after U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi fell apart.
The speculation over Xi’s upcoming visit came out amid the escalating disputes with Washington over trade and technology and the criticism over interfering in the internal affairs of Taiwan and Hong Kong. Some experts say that Beijing will utilize Pyongyang as an ace up the sleeve and leverage against Washington as it did during the early phase of trade war in 2017. The North Korean card will be both an opportunity for Xi to reaffirm his clout as backer of Kim Jong Un and a solution to present to President Trump during their meeting at G20 as a way to bring about a ceasefire for the on-going trade war.
The North has remained silent despite the repeated requests for dialogue from Seoul and Washington. Even President Moon Jae-in, who has been much accommodating to Kim Jong Un, is urging the North Korean leader to show the will to disarm his nuclear weapons, which reflects Mr. Moon’s frustration and disappointment towards Pyongyang.
President Xi’s visit to North Korea could serve as a turning point for the regime to engage in dialogues again. However, China’s diplomatic tactics towards North Korean must be focused on pressuring the North to disarm the arsenal rather than boasting their ties, which will encourage Kim Jong Un to harbor an ulterior motive. If China steps in to undermine the sanctions of international community, it will only beget more trouble. It is noteworthy that North Korea had to come back to the negotiating table early last year because China participated in the sanctions.