A train of the kind that Kim Jong Il used when he traveled to China left North Korea on Monday morning and arrived in Beijing around 3 p.m. This set off speculation that Kim Jong Un was making his first trip outside the country he took control of after his father’s death in late 2011. As of Monday night U.S. time, nearly 24 hours later, the international media was still trying to figure out if he was there or it was his sister.
For people tracking prospects of the upcoming inter-Korean and North Korea-U.S. summits, North Korea’s silence about both meetings has been vexing but not surprising. But there was a sign last Wednesday, nearly two weeks after Trump’s March 8 decision that he would meet Kim, that North Korea was indeed getting ready. It came in a KCNA pronouncement that described “change in atmosphere” with the U.S. but also came with a warning at detractors, specifying “incumbent and former officials and experts of the U.S.,” to not say something that would screw things up. The Post’s Anna Fifield picked up on the significance of the statement and the Journal’s Jonathan Cheng tweeted a portion:
KCNA: “It is really an expression of small-mindedness for the riff-raffs to spoil the atmosphere and say this or that even before the parties concerned are given a chance to study the inner thoughts of the other side and are seated at a negotiating table.”
— Jonathan Cheng (@JChengWSJ) March 21, 2018
The analysts at 38North say activity at North Korea’s nuclear test site has also slowed in the last couple of weeks.
Some of the early reports on the action in Beijing today have noted that Kim Jong Il visited Beijing for consultations before previous summits with the South Korean leaders. That’s interesting but we’re looking for breaks in patterns of NK diplomacy. Trump agreeing to meet Kim is a big break in the pattern. If it just results in the same old agreements we’ve seen in the past, it’s hard to imagine Trump spinning that as a win.