Oriana Skylar Mastro
China has been successful at keeping North Korea close and leveraging the relationship to achieve its own overarching goals beyond denuclearization.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made his third visit to China in mid-June. The fact that Kim visited Beijing shortly after the Singapore summit was unsurprising—it was expected that Kim would have to debrief Xi and the two would want to strategize ways forward.
But the predictability of the visit does not diminish its importance. Specifically, the meeting allowed China to establish its influence behind the scenes, shape its image on the global stage, while also solidifying progress in its broader goals for the future of the peninsula and U.S.-China relations.
First, the broader geopolitical competition with the United States was a central consideration for the visit. Xi most likely wanted to clearly signal to the United States that China continues to play the pivotal role in shaping Kim. Chinese media reporting was not subtle on this point—highlighting that China’s dual suspension plan, which consisted of a pause of U.S. military exercise for a freeze in North Korean nuclear testing, was basically adopted in Singapore. According to Chinese media, this demonstrates China’s role as “a responsible great power” and that progress on the Korean nuclear issue “is indeed inseparable from China’s efforts.”