China’s shadow looms large over second Trump-Kim summit

As North Korea’s main ally, Beijing is keen on concrete results in upcoming Vietnam meeting, including denuclearisation.

Kim arrives at Singapore’s Changi International Airport before his summit with Trump [File: Ministry of Communications and Information of Singapore via AP]

Beijing, China – All eyes were on Singapore in June last year as a jumbo jet carrying Kim Jong-un landed on the tarmac of the city-state’s Changi airport, days before the North Korean leader’s landmark summit with US President Donald Trump.

As Kim took his first steps onto Singaporean soil, having completed his longest trip abroad as head of state, those present saw it wasn’t a North Korean airline from which he had just disembarked – but a Chinese one.

Beijing’s loan of the Air China 747 carrier made logistical sense, providing Kim with a much more reliable mode of transport to make the 4,800km trip to Singapore than using his own, decades-old, official aircraft.  READ MORE

The move, however, was not only practical but also symbolic. Though China – North Korea‘s main ally – was not physically present at the Singapore meeting aimed at reviving stalled nuclear talks, it had an undeniable a role to play in it.

“China’s blessing is important for North Korea,” Tong Zhao, a nuclear-policy fellow at the Beijing-based Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy, told Al Jazeera. Without Chinese support, he added, Pyongyang may fear being “strong-armed into an unfair deal”.

Kim waves from a train in Beijing on January 10, 2019 [KCNA via Reuters]

And now, with another summit between the United States and North Korea set to take place at the end of this month in Vietnam, Beijing’s influence is once again palpable. READ MORE

China does not want to be pushed aside by the Trump-Kim summit; it wants to have a role in shaping it,” Carlyle Thayer, a security consultant and Emeritus Professor at The University of New South Wales in Australia, said.

Indeed, it was only last month when Kim arrived in Beijing on a bulletproof train at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, just as speculation over an upcoming second meeting with Trump mounted.

The trip marked the once-reclusive North Korean leader’s fourth summit with Xi over the past year, including his first known diplomatic foray overseas with a visit to the Chinese capital in March 2018, all coming before and after talks with either Trump or South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

“The four visits seem an effort to get them both on the same sheet of music,” Thayer told Al Jazeera. “It indicates some kind of coordination.”

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