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(News Focus) With talks with Xi, N.K. leader ups ante for showdown with Trump

2018/03/28 11:51

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By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, March 28 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's surprise visit to Beijing is viewed as part of efforts to collect more bargaining chips ahead of his showdown with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Kim kicked off his full-fledged summit diplomacy with the talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday, as he's bracing for a high-risk, high-return game in May with Trump, a former businessman who styles himself as a master of negotiation.

It came as hawkish officials are gaining clout in Washington D.C., as shown in the nomination of CIA director Mike Pompeo as secretary of state and the return of John Bolton, this time in the top national security post.

Many U.S. officials remain skeptical about Kim's intentions, making it clear that they won't buy the same horse twice, given Pyongyang's record of reaching an agreement, reneging on it and going back to its provocative mode.

Kim apparently wants to restore Pyongyang's friendly ties with Beijing at a highly sensitive time for his bold diplomatic gambit amid overall regional security conditions long dogged by the secretive regime's nuclear program.

By showing off seemingly, or actually, close ties between the communist allies, Kim is sending a message to Trump that his regime is not isolated despite his "maximum pressure" strategy and upping the ante for upcoming denuclearization talks.

The young Kim is also trying to publicize that he's an audacious leader ready for a significant deal on denuclearization and a peace regime on the peninsula.

A combined image of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump (Yonhap) A combined image of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump (Yonhap)

"The issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved, if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realization of peace," Kim was quoted as telling Xi.

For China, Kim's first overseas trip since taking power in late 2011 was desirable and timely.

China might have been feeling left out amid Kim's recent peace offensive. There's been concern about "China passing" as Kim aggressively reached out to Seoul and Washington.

China hopes to play a significant role in deciding the future of the North's nukes and the Armistice Agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. It prefers the six-way talks to any bilateral deal between the North and the U.S., like the 1994 Agreed Framework.

Close coordination between Pyongyang and Beijing means more leverage for the both sides once nuclear talks are resumed.

The South Korean government hailed the mood.

"An improvement in relations between North Korea and China prior to inter-Korean and North Korea-U.s. is seen as a positive sign," an official at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae told reporters.

Cheong Wa Dae is hoping for a concrete action plan for the denuclearization of Korea to bring lasting peace to the peninsula through the back-to-back summit talks scheduled to take place this spring.

Kim's attitude in sitting down with President Moon Jae-in next month will be another litmus test for his seriousness about a new path for his impoverished nation.

North Korea experts here said the Kim-Xi summit largely bodes well for decades-long efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.

"It's meaningful in that Kim stated his commitment to denuclearization in front of Xi. It's a thing that South Korea, the U.S. and China would welcome," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute.

The time has come for the international community to consider a serious option to provide the North with an irreversible security guarantee in return for the dismantlement of its nuclear program in a complete, verifiable and irreversible way, he added.

Lee Hee-ok, professor at Sungkyungkwan University, pointed out, "North Korea's typical all-round diplomacy has gotten underway."

   It would serve as a chance for North Korea and China to reopen their "strategic communication," Lee added.

lcd@yna.co.kr

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