The Three Xi-Kim Meetings in China: What Did They Discuss?
Photo Credit: XInhua
By Tai Wei Lim

The Three Xi-Kim Meetings in China: What Did They Discuss?

Jul. 03, 2018  |     |  0 comments

What did Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un discuss during the three Xi-Kim meetings in China? Before or after Kim met with any world leaders, he would make a trip to Beijing to meet up with Xi, and also State Councilor Wang Yi, who serves as Foreign Minister. It showed the immense importance of Beijing to the peace process on the Korean Peninsula.


The first Xi-Kim meeting took place on March 28, 2018 in secrecy. Kim arrived in Beijing in an armored train reportedly armed with surface to air missiles. The armored train was used by previous North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il because of their fear of flying. This was Kim’s first head of state visit overseas since 2011 when he officially assumed power after the death of his father Kim Jong-il. The visit was unannounced beforehand and naturally attracted disproportionate attention. It was here the public declaration of Kim’s willingness to meet face-to-face with US President Donald Trump was announced. But the international community had already been speculating about it for some time. President Trump returned the offer positively through his Twitter account.


The visit was made by Kim following an invitation by President Xi. Kim’s wife joined him in this visit and his powerful sister Kim Yo-jong (widely labelled as North Korea’s second most powerful individual and someone who controlled access to Kim) was also present in this visit. This visit was also first proof that there was no cold war between Pyongyang and Beijing, even after Kim’s execution of his pro-Beijing uncle Jang Son-taek and his half-brother Kim Jong-nam who was residing in Macau, Hong Kong and Beijing. Any illusion of tension between the two after Kim refused to meet high-ranking Chinese Communist Party officials on a number of occasions was immediately dispelled. The Kims put up at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse under heavy security.


Seemingly keen to embark on modernization, Kim visited the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Economic development is widely believed to be a major motivation in the attempts by Kim to open up his country. Beijing shared information on the visit with Trump. Before this visit, a month earlier, Kim Yo-jong had already met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and passed on an earlier message about the possibility of a Trump-Kim summit.


The second Xi-Kim summit on May 8 also took the world by surprise, happening so quickly after the first and so near the planned Trump-Kim summit (which was already publicly announced by that point of time). The two leaders took a stroll on a beach in Dalian in what is now an iconic photo. The world also saw Kim took a private jet to Dalian, dispelling any fears of flying like his predecessors and symbolically announcing he was prepared to fly to the Trump-Kim Singapore summit (the farthest he would have traveled in official vists).


The second meeting also took place with some secrecy. The meeting appeared to be a photo-op for displaying a common front between the two socialist allies, particularly before the Trump-Kim summit that eventually took place on June 12. Many seasoned observers also saw this second session as additional tutoring and advisement from the Chinese before Kim met the Americans.


Symbolically, it also showed that Beijing was very much in the diplomatic game in the Korean Peninsula. Other top officials that attended the Dalian leadership summit included Kim Yo-jong and Wang Huning (an elite leader in the Chinese Politburo Standing Committee). By the end of the second visit, Xi was widely expected to visit Pyongyang given the flurry of Kim’s visits to China.


In contrast, Kim’s third visit to China on June 19 was accompanied by great fanfare with maximum displays of socialist fervor as children waved flags and had overt displays of unmitigated excitement to welcome him. Beijing was keen to receive its special guest after the almost celebrity-like presence of Kim at the Singapore Summit. In Kim’s third visit, Beijing officially indicated its seal of approval over the outcome of the summit with the joint statement and follow up steps of denuclearization.

Beijing is reluctant to impose trade sanctions on North Korea indefinitely for fear of massive refugee outflows from North Korea.

The liberal media cast the third visit against the context of the ongoing trade war and tensions between the US and China. The liberal media conceptualizes Kim’s third visit to China as a bargaining chip and perhaps some form of hidden pressure on the US to go easier on trade tariffs against China if they wanted to have continued and sustainable full cooperation from China. At the point of the third visit, the Trump administration imposed USD 50 billion worth of tariffs on China, and Beijing retaliated with a similar package against US goods, prompting the US to threaten another USD 200 billion worth of tariffs if the Chinese continued to escalate the trade tensions.


The current series of UN sanctions against North Korea arises from the US-led “maximum pressure campaign” for punitive measures on Pyongyang for testing inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and nuclear devices. In this aspect, China has a bargaining chip in the shape of peace on the Korean Peninsula peace. A major reason why the UN-imposed trade sanctions worked on North Korea was because it was strongly supported by China. This is the reason why Trump was very careful in emphasizing that the UN-authorized trade sanctions on North Korea will remain airtight and strong until denuclearization reaches the stage of Complete Verifiable Irreversible Denuclearization (CVID) or a stage that US inspectors (with international teams) can certify that North Korean missiles and nuclear devices are no longer usable.


As long as the Chinese border with North Korea remains closed, trade sanctions will be effective. Any relaxation of enforcement by the Chinese on cross border smuggling (including coal and seafood exports to China), disguised humanitarian supplies, and energy commodities barter trade will scuttle the international community’s attempt to punish North Korea for its rogue behavior. So far, Beijing has been consistent with UN sanctions on North Korea and was also fully supportive of the Trump-Kim summit and its outcome. Some liberal views claim that Kim was pleasantly surprised by the relatively low levels of concessions he needed to give for direct negotiations with Trump.


Kim and Beijing were possibly surprised by Trump’s unilateral offer of stopping the annual war games exercises between the US military and South Korea based on high costs, avoidance of provocation, and the need to fly heavy bombers over more than six hours to bomb mountain ranges. This clearly met Beijing’s long advocated objective of the so-called policy of a “freeze for a freeze” (stopping annual US-South Korea war games in exchange for ceasing missile and nuclear developments). Both Seoul and Tokyo were caught unaware and left scrambling to understand the implications of this unilateral offer, since the fate of the 30,000 US troops left on the Korean Peninsula was also marginally mentioned in Trump’s press conference.


Beijing is reluctant to impose trade sanctions on North Korea indefinitely for fear of massive refugee outflows from North Korea. Yanbian in China is a border city with North Korea where millions of ethnic North Koreans reside. Beijing in the past was also keen to keep a strategic buffer against South Korea without coming into direct contact with the US, South Korean, and Japanese troops. In that aspect, China is keen to have a politically stable and non-confrontational North Korea.


On Pyongyang’s side, it was practicing the classic example of balance of power strategy, with overt displays of close friendship with Beijing based on both tangible material support from China in the past, and an alliance inked theoretically on paper, as well as a shared history of communist fraternity fighting together in the first and last great war of the Cold War in the form of the Korean War (1950-53). Pyongyang wants to avoid overdependence on a single ally and has diversified its basket of friends to include Moscow and, with the rapprochement policy, South Korea. It has started negotiating with the US directly and now Tokyo wants a piece of the action in coordination with Washington DC and Seoul.


On the other hand, Kim is also wary of being too chummy with the US, having seen and vehemently rejected the “Libyan Model” where denuclearized components were inspected, neutralized, and shipped to the West, with the process eventually ending with the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi being murdered by the country’s rebels. During the Trump-Kim summit fever, Kim was also warned by Iran’s supreme leadership that North Korea needs to be cautious in negotiating with the US due to their own experience of having a negotiated six-party agreement on denuclearization withdrawn by the US unilaterally. The US effected their withdrawal based on their own assessment of national interests and priorities and the concerns of their closest Middle Eastern allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel. Pyongyang wants to leverage Chinese power against such Western democratic pressures.

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