“May you go on vacation during interesting times” is the editor’s version of the fake ancient Chinese curse, and it certainly applied to me during the last week. While I’ve been ignoring my phone and computer and getting bitten by ticks in the backwoods of Tennessee, the world has turned.
For the latest on Trump’s tariffs and Sino-U.S. trade tensions, see my colleague Lucas’s update below. The other big news, of course, is that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited Beijing.
- Speculation that Kim was in China began after a North Korean armored train was seen heading for the capital, and an unusual fleet of vehicles drove in a convoy through Beijing (see SupChina video).
- “Two sources, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed that the mystery guest” aboard the train was Kim, according to the South China Morning Post.
- “China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday it had no understanding of the situation” when asked about a Bloomberg report on Kim’s visit, according to Reuters.
- Online speculation about Kim’s visit has been strictly censored, reports the Associated Press.
- Chinese internet users continue to mock North Korea and its leader despite censorship: Inkstone News reports on “the Chinese internet’s fat-shaming of Kim Jong-un.”
Why did Kim visit Beijing? The South China Morning Post says a major reason for the visit was that Kim “needed to know he still had a friend in Beijing” in advance of upcoming high-level talks with South Korea and the U.S.
“A debut as an international statesman… Befriending a fading ally… Making Beijing a player again… Playing world powers against each other… Strengthening his grip at home…” These are a few reasons for Kim’s trip that were suggested by the New York Times (paywall).
“China worries about being bypassed by North Korea and Trump… China fears some collusion and fears its interests being disregarded,” said prominent historian Shen Zhihua 沈志华 to the Times. This seems to me to be a significant factor: There is no benefit to either China or North Korea if the U.S. goes into talks thinking it can play the two Asian countries against each other. As scholar of Chinese-North Korean relations Adam Cathcart told the Guardian, “traveling by train has been a feature of North Korean propaganda.” Kim could have spoken to Xi on the phone or traveled incognito by plane.
This very public but plausibly deniable trip was intended to send a signal to Trump that there is no daylight between Beijing and Pyongyang, even though that quite clearly is not the truth.
It’s great to be back
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