What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

What does Kim Jong Un’s China visit mean for the U.S.?

Why did North Korean leader Kim Jong Un go to China, and what impact will that visit have on its nuclear standoff with the U.S.? Judy Woodruff gets two views from Michael Pillsbury, an adviser to the Trump administration, and Michael Green, a former National Security Council staff member.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Returning to our lead story, the visit to China by North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un. What should we make of the trip, and what does it mean for the U.S.?

    Michael Pillsbury has been advising the Trump administration on Korea. He is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, where he directs the Center for Chinese Strategy. And Michael Green was the senior director for Asia on the National Security Council staff during the George W. Bush administration. He is now senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a professor at Georgetown University.

    And, gentlemen, we thank you both for being here.

    Michael Pillsbury, to you first.

    Do we know how this trip came about?

  • Michael Pillsbury:

    I would say the short answer is no.

    A senior intelligence official in South Korea told the press a couple of days ago, this is not Kim, this is his sister. Very embarrassing intelligence failure from South Korea. A number of American China experts have tweeted out, there's high officials on the train, but no one else.

    So unless it's extremely sensitive American intelligence I would say the answer is no. However, we know a lot more about it now. We have the Xi phone call with Trump. We have had the long Chinese statement, and we have had some communications with the Chinese.

    I, myself, have talked to the Chinese about what happened. And they claim they're trying to help us. And I think that's true. I think they are trying to help President Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But they clearly extended the invitation, and Kim accepted.

    Michael Green, what does the North Korean leader get out of this trip, based on what we have been told?

  • Michael Green:

    Well, for now, it's quite a propaganda coup.

    Kim Jong-un is going to be able to tell his people and the world that, after defying the U.N. Security Council, the international community with multiple missile and nuclear weapons tests, the leaders of the world want to meet with him, as the leader of a nuclear weapon state. So, just on the face of it, he's gained quite a coup.

    What he will hope to get next is Chinese help weakening the sanctions and pressure on him. Whether or not the Chinese help him will depend in part on how effectively the United States, together with Japan and Korea, keep pressure on and keep China focused on getting something more concrete than what we have seen so far.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Michael Pillsbury, you agree there are a number of things he gets from this?

  • Michael Pillsbury:

    Yes, I do.

    In many ways, you got a clue at the end of the Chinese statement who Chairman Kim or the Young General Kim, he likes to be called, brought with him. He brought his propaganda chief. It is called the Workers' Party United Front Department director.

    So, he is obviously focused on just what Mike Green says, getting some international credibility, making sure there's no errors on this trip. From his point view, it came off very well.

    However, he does — in the Chinese account of what happened, he does sound very junior. He's filled with praise for President Xi. He responded that President Xi said, we need to have more meetings. We need to have special envoys. We need to be exchanging letters. Don't leave me out of the loop ever again, seemed to be President Xi's meaning.

    And there's a kind of commitment, according to the Chinese.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Because he had been left out of the loop…

  • Michael Pillsbury:

    Yes, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … with this negotiation — decision to meet…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Michael Pillsbury:

    As you know, "The Economist" magazine calls President Xi the most powerful man in the world, but he doesn't know what's going on in his own backyard.

    So, he had to settle some embarrassing matters of what is owed. They used the term moral commitment. The reason Young General Kim has come to report is out of moral commitment to China. I think that was particularly telling.

    But, still, overall, this is a big triumph for President Trump. Don't forget, last Thursday, he slapped the Chinese in the face almost with the tariffs, the announcement of the lawsuit, you know, the crackdown technology. And four days later, we have the Chinese helping us quite a bit with the young general.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Michael Green, a big triumph for President Trump? And what does it mean for the prospects for the summit — a summit?

  • Michael Green:

    Well, if there's a summit, because while it's clear that Kim Jong-un has gotten some propaganda mileage out of this, it not clear yet what we get. It doesn't mean we won't get anything, but first round goes to Kim Jong-un.

    The only indication out of the meeting between Xi and Kim Jong-un that there might be some intention to talk about nuclear weapons is the statement that the North Korean leader apparently made that he continues to favor denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which President Trump highlighted in his tweet.

    But anyone who has negotiated with North Korea — and I have — knows that when the North Koreans say denuclearization of the peninsula, they mean after the United States stops protecting South Korea and Japan. It's a nothing burger. There's no there, there. So…

  • Michael Pillsbury:

    That's a very good point.

  • Michael Green:

    So, we will have to see. There's no indication I can see at all that there's any concrete move intended by North Korea to do anything of significance. So the next round will be critical.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Michael Pillsbury, how do you see the prospects for the summit after this? You said you think it's good for President Trump, but denuclearization, what does it mean?

  • Michael Pillsbury:

    Well, that's the precise problem.

    There's a problem of who goes first. Perhaps Secretary of State Pompeo could go first or Ambassador Nikki Haley. That's what President Clinton did.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mean to meet with Kim Jong-un.

  • Michael Pillsbury:

    To meet with the young general.

    But the issue of denuclearization is what I have been talking about a lot with the new Trump advisers. It's just what Mike Green says. There are two different definitions of it. It sounds like, when we hear it, it means he's going to get rid of all his nuclear weapons.

    That's not his definition. His definition is, he will make a judgment — and he said it could be as long as 10 to 20 years from now — whether he feels secure, because the Americans have withdrawn completely from South Korea, canceled our treaty.

    You know, he's going to decide denuclearization. And it's not even clear if he can keep some nuclear weapons in 20 years. This is going to be the key sticking point for the summit.

    And, frankly, I'm not one of those who believes we have to make a deadline, you know, in mid-May.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Michael Pillsbury:

    I'm for a postponement, if necessary, to get clarification on just this one word, denuclearization. What are we able to get him to get to talk about?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Because, Michael Green, that's not in the cards at this point. Maybe years from now, the U.S. thinks about removing troops, in some form or fashion, but that's not in the near term at all, is it?

  • Michael Green:

    No.

    And I have heard North Korean diplomats, when I was in the White House, use this term in the U.N. and Pyongyang and Beijing, eventually, we will denuclearize, after you.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Michael Pillsbury:

    After we no longer — after we feel secure.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Michael Green:

    So Mike makes an important point.

    If President Trump goes into this with no preparation — and based on his tweet, he said that Kim Jong-un might do the right thing. But he's basing that on the statement about — quote, unquote — "denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," which doesn't mean anything.

    So, a much better approach for President Trump would be to have a series of preparatory meetings to find out what the real there, there is.

    It's not clear he wants to do that or not. But if Mike is advising him and others are telling him, get lower-level talks, clarify, that's very good advice.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And,meantime, you have these reports of new activity at the reactor sites. A lot of questions still.

    Michael Green…

  • Michael Pillsbury:

    The summit would clearly be canceled, I think, if there's a provocation by North Korea, a nuclear test or a long-range missile test toward Guam, something like that. That would clearly be a deal-breaker.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will be watching it all. And I know you will.

    Michael Pillsbury, Michael Green, thank you both.

  • Michael Pillsbury:

    Thank you.

  • Michael Green:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest