Will the trade war between the US and China come to an end next week? Donald Trump tweeted out this morning that a planned meeting at the upcoming G-20 summit next week will become an “extended meeting.” His description of preparations between then and now offered a strong hint of an agreement in the works:
Had a very good telephone conversation with President Xi of China. We will be having an extended meeting next week at the G-20 in Japan. Our respective teams will begin talks prior to our meeting.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2019
That sounds like a traditional summit arrangement, as opposed to the summits Trump held with Kim Jong-un. Usually, summit meetings between presidents and other heads of states are held to nail down the final details of an agreement largely already worked out between two countries. This sounds as though a breakthrough has either been made with China on the trade war, or one is expected to happen in the next few days.
What if that’s not necessarily related to trade, at least not directly? Xi just happens to be visiting Trump’s pen pal in Pyongyang this week, the first such visit by a Chinese premier in 14 years:
Chinese president Xi Jinping will travel to North Korea on Thursday on a two-day visit, state media announced yesterday.
The Chinese leader will meet North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un to discuss the problems facing the Korean Peninsula. This will be the first visit to North Korea by a Chinese head of state in 14 years. …
According to some analysts, the Chinese leader is trying to use his influence in the North Korean nuclear issue as a leverage in trade negotiations with the US.
To back this view, observers note the current stalemate in talks over North Korea’s denuclearisation and the easing of the economic sanctions imposed by Washington.
It’s possible that Xi wants to get North Korea to make serious concessions towards denuclearization as a means to improve his bargaining position. It might also be that Trump is using his economic leverage to force Xi into cracking down on Kim. Either way, it’s going to be a tough sale with Kim, according to a document published by the Voice of America:
An official North Korean document shows Kim Jong Un has no intention of giving up his nuclear weapons but instead has told his military that he would use talks with the United States to solidify North Korea’s status as a nuclear power, according to a new report.
The document Voice of America says it obtained is described as “a teaching guide for instructing top military officials on Pyongyang’s official internal position” and was produced before Kim met President Trump in Hanoi for a second summit in February. “The document makes clear that Kim saw the meeting in Hanoi to strike ‘a final deal’ as a means to acceptance as a ‘global nuclear strategic state,’” VOA reports.
Kim is quoted as saying he would use the meeting “to further consolidate nuclear power that we have created.”
Things might have changed since then, especially Xi’s position. China is Kim’s guarantor, after all, and to at least some extent Xi calls the shots on Kim’s survival as Dear Leader. Xi’s own survival depends on his ability to strengthen and expand the Chinese economy, and Kim’s survival is a secondary consideration at best. If Xi needs some denuclearization as a means to end a damaging trade war and the isolation of Huawei in particular, then Xi might be in Pyongyang to explain the facts of life.
Of course, nothing may come of this tweet, but apparently Trump thinks something’s up. Why raise expectations otherwise? And unless one believes in coincidences, Xi’s extraordinary visit to North Korea the week before the G-20 certainly appears to hold some significance for his meeting with Trump a few days later.
Update: Official Chinese media says Trump’s the one that wanted the call:
trump requested the call with xi, per xinhua – FLASH: XI, AT REQUEST, HOLDS TELEPHONE CONVERSATION WITH TRUMP
— Bill Bishop (@niubi) June 18, 2019
They’re clearly sensitive to the perception that they’re conceding anything. Trump would be, too. As the Washington Post’s Emily Rauhala observes, the two are “well matched” in that sense. Still, a meeting’s a meeting, and Xinhua isn’t denying anything Trump tweeted … at least not yet.