North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his fourth trip to Beijing on Tuesday for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. While U.S. President Donald Trump recently said that the location of a second U.S.-North Korea summit will be announced “in the not too distant future,” progress has been slow in denuclearization talks, and the North decided to make a move first by turning to its traditional ally and showing off their strong relations.
As Kim visited China three times last year, many speculated that Xi would travel to Pyongyang for their next summit diplomacy. Yet, the young leader did not mind taking a trip to China on his birthday for another sit-down with the Chinese leadership. As it opened the door for dialogue by joining the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics last year, North Korea seems to be aiming to take the lead in diplomacy for affairs on the Korean Peninsula this year.
Kim’s trip to China may be intended to further solidify the country’s alliance with Beijing and leverage it in handling relations with South Korea and the United States. Last year, Kim traveled to China before the April 27 inter-Korean summit, and before and after the June 12 Singapore summit with Trump. In this sense, the latest visit can be interpreted as a move for Kim to coordinate strategies ahead of his possible second summit with the U.S. president. Their meeting also highlighted the role of China in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula when trade negotiations are underway between Washington and Beijing.
Pyongyang may be signaling its willingness to hold a second summit with the U.S., but there’s a long road ahead for Trump and Kim to meet with each other again. Talks have stalled as both sides have stuck to their own demands and not found middle ground. Kim even warned that he might take a “new path” if Washington continues to pursue sanctions, pressuring the Trump administration by declaring that he can deviate from the denuclearization track.
Such an approach, however, will only make Washington more wary of the Kim regime. Trump has insisted that China may be exerting influence on North Korea from behind the scenes. Still, Kim is trying to get Beijing involved in the process, calling for multilateral negotiations for a peace regime. It is unlikely for Beijing to actively support the North in the denuclearization process as the country is busy trying to defuse trade tensions with the United States, so Kim’s such attitude will only make Washington and the international community grow suspicious about the regime’s sincerity. Kim should be reminded that there is no path other than giving up nuclear ambitions.