North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is making a two-day visit to Beijing starting Tuesday and is expected to discuss with Chinese leaders his next steps after his nuclear summit with President Trump last week.
Kim’s visit to Beijing, while expected, is one way for China to highlight its crucial role in U.S. efforts to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. The U.S. has long looked to China to use its influence with North Korea to bring it to negotiations, but the visit comes as ties between Beijing and Washington are being tested by a major trade dispute.
Chinese President Xi Jinping “is exerting a lot of influence from behind the scenes,” said Bonnie Glaser, senior advisor for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Glaser said it was predictable Xi would want to be briefed by Kim directly about the North Korean leader’s talks with Trump.
“I expect they will talk about the path going forward and where priorities should lie,” Glaser said. Those priorities, from China’s perspective, would be to ensure that Beijing is included in any in peace treaty talks and for creating an environment on the Korean peninsula that will make it unnecessary for U.S. troops to remain.
Security was tight Tuesday morning in the Pyongyang airport, where another flight was unexpectedly delayed, and later at the Beijing airport, where paramilitary police prevented journalists from shooting photos. A motorcade including sedans, minibuses, motorcycles and a stretch limo with a golden emblem similar to one Kim used previously was seen leaving the airport.
Roads near the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, where senior Chinese officials meet with visiting leaders, were closed and the same motorcade with motorcycle escorts was later seen heading into the compound. A ring of police vehicles and black sedans surrounded the perimeter of the guesthouse where Kim stayed on his first visit this year. Kim’s presence there and the schedule of his visit, including any meetings with Xi, have not been confirmed.
Kim was diplomatically isolated for years before making his first foreign trip as leader in March to meet with Xi in Beijing. This would be his third visit to China, North Korea’s main ally and key source of trade and economic assistance. Following his summit with Trump, Kim was expected to meet with Chinese leaders to discuss progress in halting his country’s missile and nuclear weapons programs in exchange for economic incentives.