Even as China continues its cooperation with the Trump administration and its “maximum pressure” campaign against North Korea’s nuclear program, there were signs during leader Kim Jong-un’s visit to Beijing that the shriveled remnants of a Socialist fraternity may be poised to blossom again.
Make no mistake about it, by most accounts, China’s efforts to apply pressure to the Kim regime have been real. In fact, The Financial Times reported Thursday, Xi Jinping may have gone even further than UN sanctions required. And why not? Xi’s distaste for the young renegade leader has been telegraphed through a chill in bilateral relations ever since he took office.
But there are now signs the relationship is set to warm, though it is unclear what Beijing wants in return, and what kind of arrangement Kim – or the wild card, Trump – will be willing to sign up for.
Some hints that both sides were setting the table for a reset in personal ties between the two countries’ leaders surfaced last November. Following the Chinese president’s reelection at the time, Xi extended a thank you in exchange for Kim’s congratulations (or so N Korea reported). Chinese state media, however, didn’t mention the exchange.
This week, Chinese state media covered Kim’s surprise visit to Beijing extensively, showing images of the leaders smiling together as if they were close allies. The trip was termed “unofficial,” but it had all the trappings of a full-fledged state visit.
North Korean state media went even further in playing up the visit, putting out a 40 minute documentary on the event, which they were kind enough to translate into English:
The video, posted on YouTube by an unofficial North Korean state-linked account, lavished praise on China, portraying a friendship in stark contrast to current tensions marked by harsh sanctions.
“[Kim] made the following entry in the visitors’ book: We can grasp the mightiness of China, a great neighboring country,” the narrator said during a scene showing Kim’s visit to the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “More excellent scientific successes will be achieved under the wise leadership of the Communist Party of China.”
Whatever comes from the looming summits between Kim and Trump, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and even potentially Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the past week has made it clear that China remains the most important piece to the puzzle. Xi Jinping has for the first time since ties with North Korea went south at the outset of his administration extended his hand to the rogue state.
From the images broadcast on both Chinese and North Korean state media it looks like Xi wants to revive a long-wilted Socialist brotherhood in Northeast Asia.