After days of speculation, China confirmed Wednesday that Kim Jong Un spent four days in Beijing earlier this week to talk diplomacy and denuclearization. The trip marks Kim’s first time leaving his home country since taking over as leader from his father in 2011. It is also one of many shockingly diplomatic moves made by the dictator since the start of 2018.
Rumours that Kim had made a trip to China began circulating early on Tuesday when a train owned by the North Korean ruling family arrived in Beijing. In the afternoon, a motorcade arrived at the station and the train departed toward Pyongyang shortly after. Both countries remained silent on the visit until Wednesday when Kim was back in North Korea.
Kim and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and reportedly discussed the conditions of North Korea’s commitment to denuclearization. After the PyeongChang Olympics, Kim made unprecedented contact with South Korea and expressed a willingness to denuclearize and meet for diplomatic talks with both S.K. President Moon Jae-in and American President Donald Trump. Kim is scheduled to meet with Moon next month and will come face to face with the man who spent weeks blasting him on Twitter in May.
Received message last night from XI JINPING of China that his meeting with KIM JONG UN went very well and that KIM looks forward to his meeting with me. In the meantime, and unfortunately, maximum sanctions and pressure must be maintained at all cost!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2018
It is likely that this trip was a strategic move by Kim to ensure China’s support going into those meetings. China is North Korea’s closest economic ally and has also been the recent target of Trump tariffs to the point of a potential trade war. Aligning himself with China could be an attempt to garner support against the U.S. to use during denuclearization negotiations or an effort to use the optics of a united Chinese-North Korean front to intimidate Trump.
There are endless ways to analyse Kim’s latest move, but realistically, if we take anything from this trip, it should be that Kim’s moves are totally unpredictable right now. He’s currently trending toward diplomacy but optimism should be felt with caution at this point.