(Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Donald Trump called for continued pressure against Kim Jong Un, after China said the North Korean leader expressed an openness to disarmament talks during a surprise visit to Beijing.
Trump struck an optimistic tone after the unexpected summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, saying in a pair of early morning tweets Wednesday that Kim might “do what is right for his people and for humanity” and give up his nuclear weapons. “In the meantime, and unfortunately, maximum sanctions and pressure must be maintained at all cost!” Trump said.
Trump’s tweets followed Chinese and North Korean statements confirming Kim’s secretive four-day swing through China, his first foreign trip since taking power in 2011. China’s official Xinhua News Agency said Kim expressed an openness to discussing his weapons program during a planned May summit with Trump, while North Korean reports made no mention of denuclearization.
“North Korea sees an opportunity with these summits to message to the world that it’s not isolated and that it has diplomatic options,” Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. State Department official who worked on North Korean issues, said by email. “The Kim-Xi summit is the latest step in that game.”
Kim’s clandestine visit -- Chinese officials refused for two days to confirm reports of his motorcade and train movements -- shakes up the diplomatic landscape ahead of the potential Trump meeting. Chinese media reports included Kim’s first public remarks indicating he would discuss his nuclear arsenal with Trump, who has upended decades of U.S. policy by agreeing to meet the North Korean leader without a clear disarmament plan.
“The issue of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula can be resolved, if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realization of peace,” Kim said, according to Xinhua.
The confirmation of Kim’s talks in Beijing helped reduce demand for haven assets, weakening the yen. The news had little impact on Asian equity markets, which fell after a selloff in technology shares spooked investors. Bloomberg News first reported Kim’s arrival in the Chinese capital.
Kim also shored up his alliance with China, which has been strained since he came to power and executed his uncle, who was a key communications channel with Beijing. His missile and nuclear tests have exasperated China, which has supported Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Kim’s weapons program.
While Beijing remains a key ally of Pyongyang and an economic lifeline for the isolated regime, the two sides had drifted apart as China provided key votes for international sanctions. Their leaders hadn’t met since Kim’s ailing father visited in 2011.
Trump’s summit decision risked sidelining China from the discussion, and may have acted as an impetus for Kim-Xi meeting.
Xi pledged support for “Comrade Chairman” Kim and North Korea’s “peaceful development.” He described the relationship between their predecessors as “the precious wealth of both sides” that must be sustained.
“This is a strategic choice and the only right choice both sides have made based on history and reality, the international and regional structure and the general situation of China-DPRK ties,” Xi said, referring to North Korea’s formal name. “This should not and will not change because of any single event at a particular time.”
Kim invited Xi to visit North Korea “at a convenient time” and the invitation was accepted “with pleasure,” the official Korean Central News Agency said.
The Beijing meeting comes amid a diplomatic flurry in Asia that has seen officials shuttling around various countries: Besides the potential summit with Trump, Kim’s due to have talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in April. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has indicated that he would like to have a summit.
Abe, who’s expected to see Trump in the U.S. next month, told parliament in Tokyo Wednesday that it was important to maintain sanctions on the regime while pursuing substantive talks. Moon spokesman Yoon Young-chan said Kim’s meeting with Xi bodes well for the South Korean and U.S. summits.
Xi’s move to preempt Trump by seeing Kim comes at a time of strain in China-U.S. ties. Xi has found himself preparing for a trade war with Trump, even after supporting United Nations sanctions to crimp the flow of energy and cash to Kim.
Trump has also indicated a greater willingness to challenge Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea and upgrade ties with Taiwan, a democratically-ruled island that Beijing considers a province.
Dennis Wilder, a senior director for Asia at the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration, said that China wanted to firm up its role in any nuclear negotiations.
“They’ve been kept out of this early period of this process,” Wilder said. “It was more a reminder to Kim, and a reminder to Washington, that you’d better keep us in the loop.”
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.