Why Did Kim Jong-un Visit Beijing?

The Trump-Kim summit
Perhaps one of the most significant events of recent times in Asia was the visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to China on March 25 to meet with President Xi Jinping. The big question is why? Bryce Swerhun, a researcher at the City University in Hong Kong joins the program.

Bryce points out that an important reason why Kim Jong-un did not leave North Korea earlier was that he was afraid of leaving the country. "For people like Kim the ability to leave his country is one of the greatest tests of their power domestically." Bryce also explains that orchestrating a foreign visit is not that easy when the way that the leader is presented; how he makes his handshakes and with who, is all vitally important.

Bryce feels, however, that China has no real wish to become more involved with N. Korea. China right now has Korea within her sphere of influence, he says. However, "it is a vacuum waiting to burst" in terms of collapse of the regime. If there was a collapse, the refugee movement would be devastating. "China will try and keep the balance, but they certainly don't want to assume responsibility for the regime, they will try to maintain the status quo."

Bryce says that very little is known about what was talked about during the summit. "Usually with this kind of meeting, a lot of work is done in advance between State departments and diplomats, and the meeting itself tends to be largely ceremonial. We have to consider that there was very little advance preparation or pre-discussion. So we can presume that not very much was actually talked about."

A discussion takes place about the possible waning of American power, with China becoming much more important, so important that the North Korean leader decided to talk to Chinese President Xi Jinping before meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and President Trump. Bryce says that the way to confront an empire is not to engage it with head on confrontation. "An empire is usually challenged because they have over-expanded, and get involved in too many disputes, so the way to engage is to keep poking it and engaging it in a region. It is interesting that every American president who has campaigned about ending America's role as the world's policeman, by bringing troops back, has changed their mind. Both G.W. Bush and Trump talked about this during their campaigns. But every President who has said that they are going to pull America out of these conflicts has very quickly been drawn back in. I do think that the long-term priority [for those who wish to see American dominance in the region come to an end] is to make sure that America is spending its resources there, to keep them engaged and in the long-term exhaust them."

Kim and Xi's meeting could be interpreted as being them saying to America: "We get to call the shots now, but you have to keep on paying. You don't get to take break".

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