After the failure of the second summit between North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, Kim called China’s President Xi Jinping on the scenic train ride home on March 4 to “thank China for their help and hospitality” on his trip to Vietnam and back.
More to the point, from what we understand, Kim assured Xi that despite the lack of agreement with the US, North Korea would continue to halt its nuclear weapons testing and any medium or long-range missile launches.
After the summit, Pyongyang did nevertheless suspend – temporarily – high level contacts with Washington, including between North Korea’s Vice Chairman and lead nuclear negotiator General Kim Yong Chol and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Ominously, even before the failure of the talks, General Kim is reported to have stood up Pompeo as he arrived for a meeting. Kim also subsequently postponed a planned visit to South Korea.
And since then, US and South Korean intelligence have reported signs of activity in North Korea’s Tongchang-ri long-range rocket launch site. Furthermore, in an effort to openly reinforce its ties with Russia and China, Kim is scheduled to visit Moscow in May, and has invited China’s President Xi to Pyongyang in April.
Sources in Beijing emphasize, however, that Xi’s trip to Pyongyang has yet to be formally set. The reason for holding back, relevant to markets, is a desire in Beijing not to inflame tensions needlessly with Trump given the possibility of a Trump-Xi summit on trade at the end of this month.
Both sides, from what we understand, are still working to hit that now very specific March 27 target date rumored for a summit. But the “two sessions” in China have, not surprisingly, slowed the final stage of negotiations focusing on enforcement issues down.
And so while negotiations are set to resume on March 15, we would not be surprised if that summit date slips beyond March 27, but only by a matter of days or a couple of weeks, perhaps to early or mid-April. More importantly, we are not aware of any fatal threat to concluding a deal, beyond the always tough negotiations in clinching that final mile.