Preparing for the diplomatic détente with Washington
On Tuesday, March 27, a mysterious armoured train made a round trip from North Korea to Beijing without revealing its key secret: Was Kim Jong-un on board? Speculations were rife after some media reports said that the train transported a number of high-level North Korean officials, including North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, to Beijing where Kim held meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping. This was a major turn of events as Kim has never travelled outside his hermit kingdom since becoming its leader in 2011, nor has he met with another head of state. However, the timing of this unprecedented meeting is no coincidence, taking place just weeks ahead of a possible summit between Kim and President Donald Trump to negotiate a curb on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
On March 28, a day after intense speculation on the secretive visit, Chinese state news agency Xinhua confirmed that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had visited Beijing and held talks with President Xi, and that both leaders held talks at the Great Hall of the People. According to Xinhua, President Xi called for more frequent high-level exchanges between the two countries and expressed praise for the recent positive changes on the Korean peninsula whereas NK’s leader Kim said that with the recent pace of change on the Korean peninsula, it was only right that he brief the Chinese president in person. He also showed his willingness to talks with the United States.
Reports also suggest that during his secretly-guarded visit, North Korean leader expressed his commitment to the denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula if the conditions were right. Although no details have come out of the meeting, one thing is certain: the visit was a desperate, but strategic, move designed to improve Kim’s position in any future negotiations with the US.
Kim Jong-un’s clandestine trip to China was in many ways an atmospheric throwback to times long gone, when it was possible to keep the movements of even a national leader hidden from public view and the stately progress of a train was preferred to air travel. Whatever efforts were made to keep it temporarily under wraps, Kim’s visit to Beijing marks the next stage in the about-face that began with North Korea’s surprise decision to compete in a joint team with South Korea in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018 and should culminate in the promised summit meeting with Donald Trump. In some ways, it was a necessary staging post.
According to China’s state-run news agency Xinhua, Kim expressed that; “the issue of denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved, if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realisation of peace.” Meanwhile Xi extolled the importance of historic bond between China and North Korea and accepted Kim’s invitation to visit Pyongyang in the coming months.
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