North Korea: A Secret Visit from Beijing

Published on April 27, 2018

The world’s eyes have been on the summit meeting today between North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In, where the two leaders hailed a new era of friendship, pledged their commitment to a denuclearized peninsula, and took an historic first step towards concluding a peace treaty to mark the official end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

The next step will be a much-anticipated summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un, its planning confirmed at the highest level over Easter weekend in a secret visit from then CIA Director Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang.

But the US was not the only country to recently send a secret envoy to Kim.

*** From what we understand, Beijing, on the heels of the Pompeo visit, on April 6-7 dispatched a close confidante of the North Korean leader to Pyongyang to be debriefed on the Pompeo trip. The purpose of the Chinese visit was also to “lay the foundation” for Kim for the upcoming series of meetings in Beijing with Xi Jinping, today in Panmunjon with Moon, and coming up with Trump. ***

*** In the Pompeo meeting with Kim, the Supreme Leader “firmly committed” the DPRK to abandoning its nuclear program in “phases” towards an eventual “complete denuclearization.” Pompeo is said to have promised US security assurances if the DPRK indeed abandons its nuclear weapons and programs, as well as economic assistance. No demands were made, for now, for the US to withdraw or limit its military presence in South Korea. ***

In a gesture of goodwill, we understand Kim also promised Pompeo he will order the release of American “spy hostages” held in North Korea prior to the summit with Trump. The North Korean leader also made a personal pitch for the historic meeting between Kim and President Trump to be held in Pyongyang, which Pompeo assured he would convey to the President upon his return to Washington.

Two Secret Visits to Pyongyang

At the invitation of Kim Jong Un, a very senior, retired Chinese diplomat, who was the best Chinese friend of his father, the late leader Kim Jong Il, and the current Kim’s non-public advisor for the two summits with Moon and Trump, made a secret visit to Pyongyang.

Their meetings, from what we understand, were held on April 6-7, just a few days after Kim had met with then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, recently confirmed by the Senate as Trump’s new Secretary of State, who visited as a special representative of the US president.

At their meeting, Kim provided details of Pompeo’s secret visit to the Chinese adviser. The Chinese adviser, in turn, made recommendations to Kim on how to ensure the success of his upcoming summits with South Korea’s Moon and with Trump.

Regarding Kim’s meeting with Pompeo, Kim conveyed to his visitor from China that the talk was a pleasant one that laid “a solid foundation” for the Kim-Trump summit.

Kim’s Points to Pompeo

Kim told the Chinese envoy he had made the following points to Pompeo:

The DPRK, he said, is firmly committed to abandoning its nuclear program. The DPRK will adopt a phased approach to abandoning its nuclear program, and strive to achieve complete denuclearization.

Indeed, Kim told Pompeo, the DPRK does not need to conduct nuclear weapon tests or intercontinental ballistic missile tests as it has already completed its goal of developing nuclear weapons.

In order to show the DPRK’s sincerity in nuclear disarmament, Kim promised the suspension of further tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles ahead of the South-North summit, and to release American spy hostages ahead of the Trump-Kim meeting.

In turn, Kim asked for the DPRK’s security to be guaranteed by the United States, and endorsed by the United Nations, after the abandonment of its nuclear weapons.

The DPRK, he said, seeks a final peace settlement on the Korean Peninsula, and looks forward to improved relations with the US, and the eventual establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the two.

Pompeo’s Response

For his part, we understand Pompeo relayed that the US will give security assurances to the DPRK if it abandons its nuclear weapons and programs in a “complete, verifiable, and irreversible” manner.

Furthermore, the US will give appropriate economic assistance to the DPRK, and is willing to improve relations between the two.

Pompeo and Kim’s language suggest, as suspected by analysts, that a major negotiation point remains in how to bridge the gap between “denuclearization,” and the dismantling, or “complete, irreversible” abandonment by North Korea of its nuclear program.

But what was not raised by Kim in both those meetings, either with the US envoy or with the Chinese, appears to have been any demand for the US to withdraw or even limit its military presence in South Korea.

While that does not mean it will not be a topic for negotiation down the road, its current exclusion is a strong and early, positive indication nevertheless of a commitment from all sides – including China – at least at this phase to making these talks a success.

Trump Invite to Pyongyang

And on a curious note on the art of diplomacy, we also learned that in his meeting with Pompeo, Kim was insistent, and enthusiastic, in extending a formal invitation to Trump for their summit to be held in Pyongyang.

While much of the foreign policy community would balk at the very notion and political symbolism of the US President traveling to North Korean soil to meet with Kim, the Supreme Leader promised Pompeo his country would extend the utmost ceremony to Trump were he to visit him there.

And senior Chinese sources go so far as to predict that while largely discounted at this time as a venue, they, and Kim, are “highly confident” they can get Trump to agree to come to Pyongyang.

It is no secret that Trump is fond of ceremony, and, say these sources, of “ostentation and an extravagant lifestyle.” The US president, they promise, will not receive as lavish a treatment as Kim is ready to accord anywhere else.

Back to list