On March 26, heavy security was deployed at train stations, major roads and the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. Rumors were spreading widely among Chinese Internet users that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could be visiting the Chinese capital. It was undoubtedly amazing.
After Kim left Beijing on March 28, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency quickly announced his visit to China. There are clear differences in the two countries’ media reports on the visit, indicating that Pyongyang and Beijing had different characterizations and expectations of the event.
China reported that it was “natural” for Kim to visit China “on a duty call” to congratulate Chinese President Xi Jinping’s re-election as state leader and to “directly notify” China on the latest changes on the Korean Peninsula. However, North Korean media did not use such expressions. The North’s media reported that Xi treated Kim and his wife with “homemade-style luncheon” at the state guesthouse and “exchanged candid views on many issues, without concealing that there were differences between the two sides.”
The most important difference is that while the Chinese media quoted Kim as expressing his intention to denuclearize the North before Xi, while the North Korean reports did not even mention the denuclearization issue at all. Pyongyang’s media said that Xi had accepted Kim’s invitation to visit North Korea "at a convenient time,” whereas the Chinese media did not mention that. The differences show that Kim’s China visit has brought about only limited improvement in the bilateral ties.
The North Korean leader is a master of making issues. Following the Beijing visit, he would probably want to visit Moscow. By borrowing the power of its two Cold War allies, the North wants to increase its value toward South Korea and the United States. What matters is whether Russia will consent. Kim will cross the military demarcation line dividing the two Koreas to have a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on April 27 at the truce village of Panmunjom.
The North Korean leader is also expected to hold a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in late May. However, it is uncertain whether the North will be able to overcome the difficulties resulting from “maximum pressures” via the series of summits. If Pyongyang wants to have a future and a way out of its difficulties, it should depend not on Kim’s diplomatic abilities but on its genuine determination to abandon its nuclear program to make a political decision of reconciliation.