Trump Hints at Xi’s Motive for Sending Envoy to North Korea

President Donald Trump tweeted on Nov. 16 that China is making a “big move” in dispatching an “Envoy and Delegation” to North Korea. “We’ll see what happens,” he added.

A day earlier, Trump responded to The New York Times’s criticism of his rapport with Xi Jinping by tweeting that “these relationships are a good thing, not a bad thing,” and added that the Times’s view on foreign policy is “naive (or dumb).”  

The backdrop: In a scathing Nov. 14 editorial, the Times accused Trump of getting close to “authoritarian leaders” like Xi and Russia’s Vladimir Putin to advance national interests. The Times also indicated that Trump’s relationships with Xi and Putin have thus far shown limited results.

Meanwhile, Beijing announced on Nov. 15 that the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) international affairs department chief Song Tao would be visiting North Korea on Nov. 17 to brief Pyongyang on the outcome of the 19th Party Congress.

Our take:

  1. Contrary to popular opinion suggesting that Xi is warming up to North Korea by sending Song to Pyongyang, we earlier wrote that Xi has in fact downgraded diplomatic relations between the two socialist countries given the series of events preceding Song’s trip. We also wrote that Xi likely made arrangements to send an envoy to North Korea in considering that Kim Jong Un had toed the nuclear line during the 19th Congress and while Trump was in China. (See our Nov. 15 article here.)
  2. Based on our research, Song Tao may be a Xi protégé. Song and Xi used to be colleagues when Xi headed Fujian Province. After taking office in 2012, Xi twice promoted Song: In November 2013, Song was moved up from foreign ministry vice minister to Foreign Affairs Leading Group deputy chief, and two years later, he became International Liaison Department director.
  3. Based on our observation, Wang Jiarui, Song Tao’s predecessor at the International Liaison Department, is a typical Jiang Zemin faction official. Wang was appointed as deputy director of the International Liaison Department during Jiang’s term in office, made director after about three years in office, and spent a total of 15 years in the department. Wang is also close to the Kim family, and was until very recently China’s envoy to North Korea for North Korea’s celebrations and important events.
  4. We believe that Xi is sending Song Tao to North Korea to pressure Kim Jong Un to abandon his nuclear ambitions. This might be the “big move” that Trump is referring to in his tweet.
  5. Our analysis will be confirmed if Kim shows obeisance to Xi and tone down his provocative stance after Song visits North Korea.