North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended a celebratory visit to China’s President Xi Jinping on Wednesday with tea, praise, handshakes — and a message for the US. Kim’s trip reinforced the idea that Beijing remains a key player — a variable that President Donald Trump needs and yet one that remains outside his control.
Administration officials have said that they will maintain sanctions on North Korea even as talks continue, and stand ready to intensify that economic pressure should Pyongyang fail to cooperate. But China, North Korea’s biggest trading partner, ultimately has power over whether sanctions on Pyongyang truly bite.
With tensions climbing between Beijing and Washington over trade, some analysts point to the warmth on display during Kim’s visit to Beijing as a warning from Xi that Trump’s moves on trade could undermine the most ambitious goal — peace with North Korea — on his foreign policy agenda.
“I think China is sending a message to Trump: You want to put trade tariffs on us and have our cooperation with North Korea? You can’t have both,” Bill Richardson, the former US energy secretary, ambassador and repeat US envoy to North Korea, told CNN.