Kim Jong-un’s visit to Beijing is yuuuge good news for Trump’s North Korea strategy

Once again, Donald Trump has exposed the fecklessness of his predecessors and the foreign policy establishment, this time with his courageous strategy to denuclearize North Korea. The visit to Beijing by Kim Jong-un – held secret at first, but acknowledged and publicized by Beijing after it became clear that it was successful – reveals that so far, Trump’s strategy is working beautifully.

The official New China News Agency says Kim told Chinese leader Xi Jinping: "If South Korea and the United States respond with goodwill to our efforts, and create an atmosphere of peace and stability, and take phased, synchronized measures to achieve peace, the issue of the denuclearization of the peninsula can reach resolution."

 “Denuclearization of the peninsula” means that North Korea gives up its nuclear program in return for the US not introducing nuclear weapons to South Korea, something it has never done and would prefer not to do. Strategic nuclear weapons are most likely kept in Guam, and there is no necessity to house them in South Korea.  So this actually means that the US will not use tactical nuclear weapons to, for instance, take out the military installations and forces that could be used by the North to invade the South.

Unspoken but potent is the threat of Japan developing a nuclear arsenal, something easily within the capability of the Japanese, but absolutely anathema to all Koreans and mainland Chinese. The memories of World War II are still vivid, and the thought of the Japanese being able to deploy nukes is terrifying to those who experienced the boot of Japanese militarism.

"The nuclear issue is the only obstacle" to good relations between China and North Korea, says Lu Chao, a North Korea expert at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, and without it being addressed, China would not invite Kim for a visit.

This reveals that China has indeed been seriously pressuring Kim, telling him in effect that good relations with the US are far more important to China than he is, and that if he doesn’t accede to the demands of Trump, the noose around his neck will tighten to the point that North Korea cannot survive.

That is the reason why Kim Jong-un and his sister snuck out of North Korea to consult with Xi Jun-ping and other members of the Chinese leadership. The North Korean populace, and apparently most of the governing elite there, were kept in the dark, in part (at least) to prevent a coup or uprising from taking place, while the two Kims were out of the country. The absolutism of Kims’s rule – able to brutally execute his opponents -- should never be mistaken for regime security. Any sign of weakness could be the trigger for its demise.

Note that Kim Jon-un, like his father, traveled by armored train, a vehicle with an appropriately sinister appearance (windows blacked out, painted dark green) that reportedly was well stocked with wine and other delights.

This is because he fears being shot down if he ever flew on an airplane. This creates a dilemma in finding a third country to host the Trump-Kim summit. Helsinki, which has been mentioned as a possible location, would take ten days or so to reach by train. My guess is that Beijing will be chosen for the summit.  Or else, the US will have to issue a public guarantee of safety, which Kim would have to take a very deep breath to trust.

The deal that Trump is structuring has a lot of pieces. Two worth noting: South Korea has agreed to trade concessions unachievable by previous presidents, while China is sending a massive fleet into the South China Sea following President Xi’s vow to be prepared to fight “bloody battles” if necessary to secure its status as a superpower. This most likely is for domestic consumption, fanning national pride (the exercises are routine), and to send a message to China’s neighbors in Southeast Asia that China is the new boss in the region. For the moment, the Trump administration will not openly oppose this posture. But for the longer term, it serves to spur nationalism and a military build-up on the part of the nations there – Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia – who regard China with some the same attitudes that the Chinese and Koreans view Japan.  

Meanwhile, Barack Obama’s passive “strategic patience” policy now has been proven to have been an open invitation to North Korea, as revealed by this report from the New York Times:

 …a new North Korean reactor that appears to be coming online now, after years of construction, according to analysts. It sits in the Yongbyon nuclear complex, where the North began its nuclear program in the 1960s. Today, the site boasts hundreds of buildings that lie along a loop of the Kuryong River and cover an area of more than three square miles.

North Korea insists the reactor is intended to produce electricity for civilian use. But the new reactor can also make plutonium, one of the main fuels used in nuclear arms. It can thus supplement the output of the aging, existing facilities at Yongbyon.

Making bomb fuel in reactors is seen as easier to do than perfecting missiles that can hurl nuclear arms around the globe. While experts clash over how soon the North will develop warheads that can survive the blistering heats of re-entry, they agree that the North has already mastered the art of using reactors to make plutonium.

This makes the magnitude of Trump’s achievement-in-process seem all the greater.

It must be emphasized that until the deal is reached and verified by severe inspection methods, celebration is premature. But Trump already has shown that he is able to achieve a more promising strategy than his predecessors whose alleged sophistication means nothing.

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