Turns out there really was something to those reports of a mystery North Korean train arriving in China:
The arrival of a North Korean train in the Chinese capital sparked frenzied speculation that Pyongyang had sent a senior figure—perhaps even leader Kim Jong Un —on a mission to strengthen ties with Beijing ahead of a planned summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.
South Korean authorities said they believed the train had pulled in Monday, but they didn’t know who was aboard. China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said she was “unaware of the situation.” Several foreign diplomats said they understood a high-level North Korean delegation was visiting.
China officially announced that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife, Ri Sol-ju visited the country:
At the invitation of Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Chinese president, Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), paid an unofficial visit to China.
The Chinese government contacted the White House on Tuesday to tell U.S. officials about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s visit to China and included a “personal message from President Xi to President Trump”.
White House Press Secretary Sanders:
The United States remains in close contact with our allies South Korea and Japan. We see this development as further evidence that our campaign of maximum pressure is creating the appropriate atmosphere for dialogue with North Korea.
This is the first known meeting between President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
For Kim, this marks the first time he has traveled outside of North Korea – or met a foreign leader – since he assumed power in 2011.
Kim made several notable comments:
It is our consistent stand to be committed to denuclearization on the peninsula, in accordance with the will of late President Kim Il Sung and late General Secretary Kim Jong Il.
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.
None of this has occurred in a vacuum.
China’s pressure on North Korea – resulting in North Korea’s willingness to denuclearize – stems directly from economic pressure the U.S. has placed on China.
In an August 2017 article, Globally Leveraging Our Energy Production, I noted the following:
Power is not purely military. Power is also economic might and influence.
The two are inexorably linked to the other.
And noted its effects:
Economic leverage is an area in which President Trump has specific expertise. As does Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. They have been utilizing it to the fullest.
If you’re not convinced, look no further than the 15-0 unanimous UN resolution against North Korea.
Russia and China both agreed to approve the toughest sanctions ever imposed on North Korea.
That historic August 5, 2017 UN vote signaled the moment when it became clear all would ultimately be well with North Korea.
Other events are entwined. Just a few of the many ongoing actions:
Negotiations on NAFTA – will either be heavily restructured or abandoned.
Pursuit of U.S. energy independence – signing the Energy Independence Policy Executive Order.
Strengthening our economic relationship with India – China’s economic rival.
The advancement of a bilateral trade agreement with Japan.
Strengthening relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Section 301 investigation of China’s Acts, Policies, and Practices Related to Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property, and Innovation.
Ongoing trade pressure on China – free trade through the threat of tariffs. The ultimate goal is no tariffs at all.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is currently conducting simultaneous bilateral trade talks.
Trade talks going on with numerous countries that, for many years, have not treated the United States fairly. In the end, all will be happy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 27, 2018
Recent events have transpired swiftly.
March 6, 2018 – North Korea signaled a sudden willingness to denuclearize:
South Korean envoys who met with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, conveyed his position in a statement after a two-day visit to North Korea. They also said he would suspend all nuclear and missile tests if such talks took place.
“The North Korean side clearly stated its willingness to denuclearize,” the statement said. “It made it clear that it would have no reason to keep nuclear weapons if the military threat to the North was eliminated and its security guaranteed.”
March 8, 2018 – President Trump signed Trade Section 232 Proclamations on Steel and Aluminum starting a 15-day countdown before a 25% tariff on imported steel and a 10% tariff on imported aluminum went into effect.
In a same-day piece, Tariffs as a Tool Towards Broader Free Trade, I stated the following:
Steel and aluminum were the chosen targets. The real goal is overall trade re-balancing and the reduction of our trade deficit with China.
China understands this clearly. They don’t like it. But they understand it.
North Korea factors heavily into the overall equation. It’s no coincidence that North Korea is suddenly willing to hold talks with President Trump’s Administration over disarmament.
There may be a long road ahead on this issue (although perhaps not) – but the timing of North Korea’s announcement is transparent.
If any doubted that China was holding North Korea’s leash, doubt no longer.
March 8, 2018 – President Trump accepted an invitation to meet with North Korea’s Kim in the coming months after Kim pledged to refrain from further nuclear tests and move toward denuclearization.
A senior administration official said the sentiments from Kim were conveyed verbally to Trump during a briefing in the Oval Office at the White House on Thursday.
The White House confirmed that Trump would accept Kim’s invitation to meet, but a senior administration official told reporters on a call after the announcement that “at this point, we’re not even talking about negotiations.”
“What we’re talking about is an invitation by the leader of North Korea to meet face to face with the president of the United States,” the official said. “The president has accepted that invitation.”
March 13, 2018 – President Trump replaced Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA Head Mike Pompeo. I noted the following:
President Trump and Tillerson have had several material differences in policy, notably:
- The Iranian Nuclear Deal – Tillerson did not want to decertify Iran.
- The Paris Accord – Tillerson wanted to stay in the Accord.
- Moving Israel’s Embassy to Jerusalem – Tillerson didn’t support the Embassy move.
- Qatar – Tillerson did not support the GCC blockade of Qatar.
- North Korea – a difference in approach to pending talks.
Tillerson, a man whose entire career has essentially been one of a diplomat, had a bit too much of a globalist approach.
Making the switch to Pompeo before starting crucial North Korean talks seems wise.
March 22, 2018 – President Trump announced plans for penalties on China for its theft of intellectual property:
- Tariffs – The President has instructed the Trade Representative to publish a proposed list of products and any tariff increases within 15 days of today’s announcement. After a period of notice and comment, the Trade Representative will publish a final list of products and tariff increases.
- WTO dispute – The President has instructed the Trade Representative to pursue dispute settlement in the World Trade Organization (WTO) to address China’s discriminatory technology licensing practices.
- Investment restrictions – The President has directed the Secretary of the Treasury to address concerns about investment in the United States directed or facilitated by China in industries or technologies deemed important to the United States.
March 23, 2018 – President Trump replaced National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster with Ambassador John Bolton effective April 9, 2018. My take:
President Trump has brought a new approach to White House staffing. A corporate approach. Individuals are shifted into and out of positions as situations and focus change.
McMaster was brought in to confront ISIS and coordinate with the Gulf Cooperation Council. ISIS is now obliterated. That job is done.
Negotiations with North Korea lie directly in front of us. A confrontation with Iran waits impatiently in the wings.
Mike Pompeo recently replaced Rex Tillerson in direct preparation for North Korean talks.
Ambassador John Bolton has now been added to the Team in preparation for Iran.
March 27, 2018 – President Trump secured a new trade deal with South Korea:
President Trump scored his first significant trade deal this week, securing a pact with South Korea that represents the type of one-on-one agreement that Mr. Trump says makes the best sense for American companies and workers.
The deal, which is expected to be formally announced on Wednesday, opens the South’s market to American autos by lifting existing limits on manufacturers like Ford Motor and General Motors, extends tariffs for South Korean truck exports and restricts, by nearly a third, the amount of steel that the South can export to the United States.
March 27, 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited China’s President Xi Jinping and reaffirmed his dedication towards denuclearization:
It is our consistent stand to be committed to denuclearization on the peninsula.
The issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved.
President Trump has not yet held talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. These are likely to occur in late April or May 2018.
Nothing is done until it’s actually done. But events are moving at breakneck speed.
From a historical perspective it will likely appear as nearly instantaneous.
Just imagine. A denuclearized North Korea.
Prompted by well-justified economic pressure placed on China.