How do the Chinese perceive North Koreans

North Korea and China : Why Kim Jong Un was really in Beijing

Kim Jong Un is occasionally referred to as the “madman with the bomb” in Western media. Half of that is true, because for all that is known, North Korea's dictator is at least on the verge of owning an atomic bomb, and he may already have one. But Kim Jong Un is not “crazy”, on the contrary, his political behavior shows cool rationality. And that includes his most recent train journey to Beijing.

In Beijing, Kim Jong Un secured the backing of his most important ally, China. This is of great importance before the planned summit with South Korea's President Moon Jae In and then with US President Donald Trump. China had recently shown increasingly angry with its small neighbor due to the provocative nuclear weapons tests and implemented the UN sanctions more intensively. But it never turned entirely away from North Korea. After the Beijing summit, it was clear: Both are sitting together again, let's say on the same train.

With his trip, Kim Jong Un upgraded China and included it as an important actor in the discussion process. It would have been a fatal signal for Beijing if North Korea's dictator had chosen South Korea as the destination for his first trip abroad. There, in the border town of Panmunjeom, Kim Jong Un plans to meet with South Korea's president at the end of April. The summit with Donald Trump is planned for a month later. During his stay in Beijing, the young dictator kept the historically correct order of relationships from a North Korean perspective. His father Kim Jong Il had also secured China's support by traveling by train.

Kim's handshake with China's President Xi Jinping also sends an important signal to the United States. The talks on denuclearization planned for the end of May appear to be a hopeless endeavor. North Korea says it wants to negotiate on denuclearization, but at the same time nuclear weapons are considered the life insurance of the dictatorial regime. It is hard to imagine that Kim Jong Un will actually give them up in negotiations. If you add Donald Trump's erratic behavior, a failure of the US-North Korea summit seems far more likely than a success. Hardliners like Trump's new security advisor John Bolton even rely on failure to give them a reason for military options. One such strategy is called “Bloody Nose” and is intended to force Kim Jong Un to dismantle by force.

However, the US will shy away from military options at the moment when a military escalation threatens. And that is exactly what they have to fear if North Korea continues to be supported by China. Seen in this light, the trip to Beijing was another clever move by the not-so-crazy Kim Jong Un.

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page