- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Beijing Tuesday for a discussion on ways the two might better coordinate their strategies ahead of a possible second summit between Mr. Kim and President Trump.

The meeting, occurring just days after Mr. Kim threatened to back away from denuclearization talks with the U.S. if Washington doesn’t ease sanctions on Pyongyang, lasted roughly an hour in the Chinese capital, according to regional reports.

Mr. Kim is said to have been joined by a cadre of senior party and military officials, including Kim Yong-chol, Pyongyang’s top nuclear negotiator with the U.S., along with North Korean foreign and defense ministers Ri Yong-ho and No Kwang-chol.

Sources told South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency that Mr. Kim and Mr. Ri are believed to have also attended a dinner hosted Tuesday by Mr. Xi and his wife at the Great Hall of the People.

Mr. Kim has held four summits over the past year with the president of China, North Korea’s closest geopolitical ally and trading partner. Tuesday’s developments unfolded with almost no advance notice from Beijing or Pyongyang and came after Mr. Kim backed away from what would have been a precedent-breaking trip to the South Korea capital of Seoul.

The North Korean leader has held meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in over the past year. He also partook in a historic first summit last June with Mr. Trump in Singapore. But, while Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim pledged broadly to work toward denuclearization, negotiations have largely stalled during the months since.

Some analysts said the North Korean leader is seeking, ahead of a potential second summit with Mr. Trump, to show he has powerful allies to rely on if talks between Pyongyang and the U.S. fail.

Kim is eager to remind the Trump administration that he does have diplomatic and economic options besides what Washington and Seoul can offer,” Harry J. Kazianis, director of Defense Studies at the U.S.-based Center for the National Interest, said in comments emailed to reporters on Tuesday.

Mr. Kazianis noted that in a major New Year’s Days speech, Mr. Kim alluded to a “new way” with regard to the nuclear issue. This “may well have been a veiled threat to move closer to Beijing,” Mr. Kazianis said. “That should make America quite concerned, as China could easily turn Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ strategy into nothing more than a memory as almost all North Korea’s external trade flows through China in some capacity.”

Xi also gains from a summit with Kim — and the timing could not be any better,” he added. “With Chinese and U.S. officials meeting to discuss how to end the growing trade war between the two superpowers, it shows Beijing clearly has a North Korea card to play if it sees fit.”

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