Why is North Korea cozying up to China now?

If you think this picture of Kim and Xi is surreal, here’s why:

a.) This is probably the first in a long time a North Korean boss has a picture taken with another world leader

b.) Kim doesn’t often pose for photographs. If you run a search, they’re all “slice of life” type of pictures.

This is Kim’s first visit abroad since he took power in 2011. The Xinhua news agency reports that he traveled to the Chinese capital because he felt compelled to personally inform President Xi Jinping of the rapid diplomatic developments on the Korean Peninsula in recent weeks.

The secrecy around the visit itself was not unusual. Visits of his father Kim Jong Il (back in the year 2000) to China were only announced by both countries when he had left the country. Moreover, the North Koreans visit China frequently to get aid.

The curious question is: why now?

Kim’s Chinese visit will be followed next by two further summits: one with Seoul and another with Washington. If the summit goes ahead, Mr Trump would become the first sitting US President to meet a North Korean leader.

There are so many ways one can interpret the North Korean’s diplomatic moves. The first is of international recognition and legitimacy.

They’re essentially telling the world that they’re a normal country, and they’re behaving like any country would: to protect their interests. These pictures tell the world that they’re relevant and legitimate.

“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,” Kim Jong Un said, according to reports. “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”.

They want to show that they’re the good guys, never wanting to pursue nucleraisation in the first place, but cornered to do so because of the others. And this visit comes after a period of tense rocket diplomacy with the Americans and warming ties with South Korea.

This visit also helps China appear to play a central role in negotiating for peace and that the North is more willing to co-operate with their Asian counterparts.

Indeed China is most willing to lend a helping hand, but they also have strategic interests in keeping the North the way they are. With an underdeveloped North Korea, there is strong reason for Beijing to to maintain defensive mechanisms around the region. Much to the annoyance of the Americans.

The other way to view this visit, is that whilst Kim can play tough on his own… he still needs the backing of China. And he does this on his own terms, or at least that’s what his actions lead us to think.

The rocket postulation, the alleged nuclear tests and the strongly worded exchange with Trump makes it seem that Kim is a mad man. But mad he is not, he knows that he can thumb his weaponised nose at the Americans in the knowledge that there really is nothing much they can do. In fact, by doing so they’re eroding the role that America plays in the region. But this game needs a banker and he still needs to pay homage to China, especially now with the summits looming.

Whatever the North Koreans and China are doing right now is most interesting. They’re sending out messages that Chinese diplomatic power is growing and the American’s role in the region is shrinking. Should Trump meet with Kim later on, it will be a first and should this happen, the North might make it appear that their legitimacy is growing.

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