South Koreans in Seoul watching “file footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping” on Jan. 8, 2019.
Photo: Ahn Young-joon (AP)

Given the nightmarish hustle of Donald Trump’s administration, it’s hard to believe that it was less than a year ago when Trump met North Korean totalitarian strongman Kim Jong Un for a historic nuclear summit in Singapore in June 2018. The two men described each other in glowing terms, watched a bizarre “Destiny Pictures” film on how to Make North Korea Great Again, and signed a vague agreement on “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” that the two sides apparently had a very different understanding of.

What happened next should surprise no one familiar with the president’s history with “deals.” While North Korea has not tested any missiles or nuclear weapons since, U.S. officials leaked later that month they believed Kim’s regime was stepping up uranium enrichment. In December, Bloomberg reported, talks had made little progress and North Korean state media released statements suggesting they would not disarm unless U.S. nuclear weapons based in “all regions surrounding the Korean Peninsula are removed, not just within North and South Koreas.” However, Kim has secured support for a second face-to-face summit with Trump from China that all parties hope will be more productive, Reuters reported Wednesday.

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The news agency quoted China’s state-run news agency Xinhua as relaying that Kim told Chinese President Xi Jinping he hoped North Korea’s “reasonable concerns” would be taken seriously. He added that a second summit would “achieve results that will be welcomed by the international community,” Reuters added.

Reuters wrote that Kim left the meeting with Chinese backing for a second summit:

The Chinese state news agency described the atmosphere in talks between Kim and Xi as “cordial and friendly” and said the two reached important consensus, agreeing to make joint efforts to promote development.

It said China supported the North’s adherence to “the direction of denuclearization” on the peninsula and the improvement of inter-Korean relations. Beijing also supported U.S.-North Korean summits and the use of dialogue to resolve concerns, it quoted Xi as saying.

“China hopes that the DPRK and the United States will meet each other halfway,” it said.

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The Wall Street Journal added that Chinese leadership is urging a “phased approach” in which North Korean concessions are met by lessened international sanctions, while U.S. negotiators are still insisting that nuclear disarmament needs to happen first:

Footage shown by Chinese state television highlighted the message of close ties. The two leaders met in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square, with the younger North Korean taking notes as Mr. Xi spoke. Later, they met together along with their wives. Mr. Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, also toured a Chinese traditional medicine factory.

... Zhang Liangui, a North Korea expert at China’s Central Party School, said Mr. Kim likely needed to shore up China’s support. “Before taking the next step and meeting with Trump again, he would want to consult with China on what to say and how to say it.”

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In a New Year’s address earlier this month, CNN reported, Kim had warned that North Korea would have “no choice but to defend our country’s sovereignty and supreme interest, and find a new way to settle peace on our peninsula” if the U.S. “misinterprets our people’s patience, and makes one-sided demands and continues down the path of sanctions and pressure on our republic.”

Trump has made no secret of his desire for a second summit: He is notoriously fond of many authoritarian leaders and views such events as an opportunity to project his own strength. Some reports this week indicated that the White House and North Korean officials were working towards an agreement to meet in Hanoi. Moreover, an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found voters were cautiously optimistic about his decision to meet Kim, even if most expected no progress on North Korea actually giving up its nukes.

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[Reuters]