Shortly after his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, North Korean leader flew to China to meet with President Xi Jinping. It was Kim’s third visit to China in three months and appears to have sent a strong message to the United States: China remains a key player in negotiations toward denuclearization.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis reported that there are no signs North Korea has not made any concrete moves toward dismantling its nuclear arms program. North Korea’s posturing could be China’s way of leveraging its involvement in negotiations versus the $50 Billion worth of tariffs imposed by Trump’s administration.

White House officials have stated that economic sanctions will continue to be applied on North Korea. However, China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner. Is North Korea likewise leveraging its talks with the United States to secure economic aid from China?

Former U.S. Energy Secretary, Bill Richardson, believes Kim’s visit to China is more of a warning than a simple message:

“I think China is sending a message to Trump: ‘You want to put trade tariffs on us and have our cooperation with North Korea? You can’t have both’”.

The summit between Trump and Kim was widely criticized for its failure to land a concrete, detailed, and irrevocable commitment from North Korea to denuclearize. Instead, the summit produced an agreement that was highly- generalized in content, one that indicated a pursuit instead of a commitment to denuclearize.

Recently, Trump imposed new tariffs on $200 Billion worth of Chinese imports in response to Beijing’s decision to match the U.S’s imposition of $50 Billion in tariffs. China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang believes Trump is initiating a trade war it may not win:

“Again and again the U.S. has been provoking a trade war. China does not wish to fight a trade war but is not scared of one. We advise the U.S. side to return to reason, and stop words and actions that harm itself and others.”

On the side of the United States, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert advised that the country’s trade dealings with China should not be conflated with its negotiations with North Korea over denuclearization:

“We have areas where we work with China and have – and we have strong relations, but there are also areas where we’re not always in agreement with China, and we will certainly bring those to light. We want to have a constructive relationship with the government of China. In order to do that, we need to repair, make some progress on some issues related to trade.”

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