In the delicate dance that is international diplomacy, small things can often speak volumes about what is going on behind the scenes.
Thus, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stirred both the professional pundits and their armchair equivalents by arriving for his Singapore summit with President Donald Trump in a Chinese aircraft.
Fox News reported that Kim landed on an Air China aircraft.
“It’s the national flag carrier of China, but the type of plane that he arrived on, like the president, was an American-made 747,” John Roberts of Fox News noted.
It was not just any jet, The Washington Post reported, but one used to carry high-ranking Chinese officials, including Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Told Kim Jong Un flew Air China for couple reasons: (1) it’s a 747 to match Air Force One, and (2) flying AC shows solidarity with the Chinese before negotiations
— Jeff Glor (@jeffglor) June 10, 2018
For some, the choice of airplane was a reminder that China, North Korea’s main trading partner and a nation Trump has relied upon to bring North Korea to heel, is an unseen but tangible presence at the summit.
“There’s a lot of support coming from the Chinese side,” said John Park, director of the Korea Working Group at Harvard’s Kennedy School, according to The Washington Examiner.
The reminder that China is watching is aimed not just at Trump, one expert said. China’s fear is that a unified Korean Peninsula might fall under American, and not Chinese sway, according to The New York Times.
“If you look at history, North Korea is not sure of China, and has a kind of revenge mentality,” said Shen Zhihua, a Chinese historian. “The worst outcome is that the United States, South Korea and North Korea all get together and China gets knocked out.”
“China can see some shocking resemblance to Nixon coming to China with Trump and North Korea,” said Yun Sun, a China analyst at the Stimson Center. “If China could do it, why not North Korea?”
“China’s original hope was that if there is a deal, a great bargain, China will want to see the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Peninsula, and the dissolution of the U.S.-South Korea alliance. In that case, the Korean Peninsula will return to China’s traditional sphere of influence,” he added.
He flew on a Chinese plane…I doubt they’re that worried about losing influence on the peninsula. https://t.co/2IcM2U4in6
— Dave Kang (@daveckang) June 10, 2018
China is looking at the summit with an eye toward increasing its influence, some experts said, according to CNBC.
“Beijing will be advocating that the price for peace should be a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea,” said Hugo Brennan, senior politics analyst for Asia at Verisk Maplecroft.
Others said there were more pragmatic considerations, such as the sorry state of North Korea’s aircraft.
In the end, Kim Jong Un chose to fly to Singapore on an Air China jet instead of his own aging Soviet-built plane. We don't know if it's because his was a decoy or because of the questionable reliability of "Air Force Un", which I wrote about in April. https://t.co/HLkLLVpKBK
— David Nakamura (@DavidNakamura) June 10, 2018
“If I were Kim, I wouldn’t want to come in on a North Korean jet,” said former White House national security aide Sebastian Gorka. “The guy needed to get here and not in a rowing boat, so China probably threw him a bone.”
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