President Donald Trump used his Twitter platform on Wednesday morning to brag about the progress he says he's making with North Korea — and to allude to secret talks.
Trump's boast came on the heels of a surprise meeting between the Chinese and North Korean leaders on Tuesday, according to The New York Times. It was the first known meeting between Kim Jong-un and another head of state, as well as his first confirmed trip outside of North Korea. The possibility that Kim Jong-un had met with Xi Jinping had been the subject of intense speculation when an armored train that had traditionally transported former North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il was seen heading toward Beijing on Monday. The meeting was confirmed when that same train departed on Tuesday, this time leaving no doubt that Kim Jong-un was one of the passengers.
The meeting, which had been called by Xi, was believed to have focused on North Korea's fraught relationship with South Korea and the United States. Trump has exerted considerable pressure on China to do its part in trying to rein in its wayward eastern neighbor, which has long been considered one of its staunchest allies. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers gave their lives fighting for North Korea's Communist government during the Korean War, a fact that still resonates with residents of both nations to this day.
At the same time, relations between the Chinese and North Korean leaders have been strained since Kim Jong-un rose to power in 2011. The North Korean despot had purged advisers who had previously worked to develop positive relations with the country, including his own uncle, and had rebuffed many of China's attempts to smooth over relations between that nation and the rest of the world.
In their statements on Tuesday, however, both Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un managed to strike a hopeful tone.
"If South Korea and the United States respond with good will to our efforts and create an atmosphere of peace and stability, and take phased, synchronized measures to achieve peace, the issue of the denuclearization of the peninsula can reach resolution," Kim Jong-un explained in a statement.
His sentiments were echoed by Xi Jinping, who in a statement declared, "This year there have been promising changes in the situation on the Korean Peninsula, and we express our appreciation for the major efforts that North Korea has made in this regard."
It may be more difficult for Trump to have a positive relationship with Kim Jong-un than it was for his Chinese counterpart. For one thing, the president has previously eschewed all possibility of establishing friendly ties with North Korea, even undercutting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he said that the United States was talking to North Korea in October.
In that same series of tweets, Trump also took shots at his three presidential predecessors — Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — for their efforts to negotiate with North Korea . . . even though none of them took the drastic step that Trump has taken by actually meeting with North Korea's leader.
Trump also recently announced the replacement of his current national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, with former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, who last month advocated an outright militant stance toward North Korea that alarmed many foreign policy observers with the possibility that it could trigger a war.
In an editorial for The Wall Street Journal earlier this month, Bolton wrote about North Korea, "The threat is imminent, and the case against preemption rests on the misinterpretation of a standard that derives from prenuclear, pre-ballistic-missile times."
Bolton added, "Given the gaps in U.S. intelligence about North Korea, we should not wait until the very last minute. That would risk striking after the North has deliverable nuclear weapons, a much more dangerous situation."
Technically, the only thing preventing the United States from going to war with North Korea is the 1953 armistice, which ended the Korean War without officially establishing peace between the two countries. Tension between the United States and North Korea remained high in the following 65 years, although they reached new depths during the recent heated war of words between Trump and Kim Jong-un.