South Korean presidential spokesperson Kim Eui-kyeom said on Tuesday that Seoul hopes Kim’s trip to China will act as a “stepping stone” for a second Trump-Kim summit.
Trump has offered assurances that another summit will allow him and Kim to make a grand deal to settle the nuclear standoff and change a relationship marked by decades of animosity and mistrust.
However, outside analysts are highly skeptical that the North will easily abandon a nuclear arsenal constructed in the face of deep poverty and likely seen by Kim as his only guarantee of regime survival.
Instead, Kim may be seeking to gauge China’s attitude toward sanctions ahead of the talks, including what the North would have to concede in order to win Beijing’s support at the UN.
The North has held off on additional nuclear weapons and missile tests for more than a year, possibly in response to China’s displeasure, while carrying out its new diplomatic offensive.
“The two leaders will further communicate over the issue of sanctions to further refine their previously general and vague attitudes,” said Cheng Xiaohe, professor at Renmin University’s School of International Studies in Beijing.
“It is impossible to see the cancellation of all sanctions, but what kind of sanctions can be cancelled and what are China and North Korea’s views on that will be discussed,” Cheng said.
Trump has pushed heavily for Chinese support in convincing North Korea to give up its weapons programmes, suggesting that could win Beijing better terms in a trade deal with Washington.
Kim’s arrival in Beijing coincides with US-China trade talks in Beijing that seek to end the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies ahead of a March deadline.
Asked whether China was linking to issues in an interview on Monday with CNBC, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “The Chinese have been very clear to us that these are separate issues.”
“Their behavior has demonstrated that as well and we appreciate that,” Pompeo said.
“China has actually been a good partner in our efforts to reduce the risk to the world from North Korea’s nuclear capability. I expect they will continue to do so.”