As if on cue, Kim Jong-un returned to Beijing on Tuesday in an illustration of how President Donald Trump’s tariff threats against China could spiral into a broader conflict
between the world’s two largest economies.
The North Korean leader was expected to spend two days in China — his third such visit since March — presumably to confer with Xi about the results of his summit with Trump in Singapore.
His presence in the Chinese capital shows how Xi’s leverage in the trade dispute with Trump extends far beyond soybean imports and Boeing Co. jet contracts.
Besides being the US’s largest trading partner, China is arguably the most important player in Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign to force Kim to give up his nuclear
arsenal. After an April 2017 meeting at the president’s Mar-a-Lago home, Xi supported successive rounds of United Nations sanctions and clamped down on border trade with North Korea.
China Central Television reported Xi as saying after the meeting that he hoped both North Korea the US can implement the outcome of the summit, and that relevant parties can work together to advance the peace process on the peninsula. China will continue to play a constructive role,
Now, as Trump targets another $200 billion of Chinese goods with potential tariffs, North Korea remains a key bargaining chip for China’s most powerful leader in decades. And using it becomes more tempting as US policy shifts on everything from trade to Taiwan fuel suspicion in Beijing that Trump really wants to halt Xi’s plan to turn China into a leading global power.
“We have two nationalistic leaders who are in some ways mirroring each other, who are lining up policies that make conflict between the two more likely not less likely,” said Scott Kennedy, deputy director of China studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The style of leadership and the policy goals of the two are making conflict more likely.”