Donald Trump likes to boast of his deep friendship with Kim Jong Un.
Awks much? Slightly, but Mr Kim’s train ride to Beijing is still good news for the US president, as Mr Kim makes the trip to China before important summits (this is his fourth to the country).
His presence in Beijing is a sign that serious preparations are underway for the second Trump-Kim summit, which Mr Trump has said will happen soon.
Also on board the armour-plated, luxury train was Kim Yong-chol, the former spy chief who has been heading negotiations with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo – negotiations that haven’t got very far to date.
What might Mr Kim and Mr Xi be talking about?
The regimes of Beijing and Pyongyang are almost as inscrutable as each other but in this case, we have a fairly good idea, thanks to Kim Jong Un’s New Year address.
In that televised speech, Mr Kim reiterated his pledge that North Korea would neither make and test nuclear weapons any longer nor use and proliferate them.
But he also warned: “We even might find ourselves in a situation where we have no other choice but to find a new way”.
Does that mean more missile launches and nuclear tests?
Frank Ruediger, professor of east Asian economy and society at the University of Vienna, argues not.
Writing on 38 North, a website devoted to analysis about North Korea, earlier this month, he said: “Kim’s confidence stems from the expectation of growing and reliable support by China.”
That confidence seems to be well founded.
Global Times, a Chinese state-run newspaper, today quoted an unnamed expert saying that Mr Kim’s “visit to China at the beginning of 2019 indicates Kim’s trust in China”.
“Kim still believes China can help him make breakthroughs in internal and diplomatic situations,” the newspaper said.
There are two ways of interpreting all that.
Firstly, that North Korea can exploit its new, better diplomatic relationship with the US to ask for more from China – to play the two superpowers off against each other.
This is a strategy that China itself successfully adopted during the Cold War, alternatively drawing closer to the US and the Soviet Union to extract concessions from them.
Secondly, that China might use its influence with North Korea as leverage in its own trade war with the US.
Either way, North Korea benefits.
The background of the trade war cannot be ignored: a US negotiating team is also in Beijing trying to reach an agreement before 1 March, when increased tariffs are scheduled to kick in. Both sides seem keener than they have previously been to settle the issue.
Mr Trump likes to think that all it takes to make a breakthrough on North Korea is another one-on-one meeting with Kim. Sod geopolitics, forget the boring details: personal charisma will win through.
Mr Kim’s visit to Beijing shows how much more complicated it actually is.
The year 2019 promised to be a big one for East Asia and for the world, and it’s already delivering.
North Korea: Kim’s ‘great satisfaction’ over sixth missile test in three weeks | World News
The North Korean leader was seen in a newly released photo smiling as several apparently senior military officers stand around him laughing, clapping and pointing at a screen.
On the same day, another photo was released showing the apparent test firing of a new missile – in the sixth round of launches since late July.
Analysts say the launches are attempts to pressure Washington and Seoul over slow nuclear negotiations and their joint military exercises.
Kim was reported by Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) to have said his military’s “mysterious and amazing success rates” in recent testing activity would lead to “invincible military capabilities no one dare provoke”.
The agency added: “(Kim) said everyone should remember that it is the (ruling) party’s core plan and unwavering determination to build a powerful force strong enough to discourage any forces from daring to provoke us and to leave any opponent defenceless against our Juche weapons of absolute power even in situations of physical clashes.”
KCNA did not describe the weapons involved in Friday’s launch but said the tests were successful.
South Korea said two projectiles launched from the North’s eastern coast flew about 140 miles (230km) before landing in the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
The US envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, is due to visit Japan and South Korea early next week for talks.
Mr Biegun will be in Japan from Monday to Tuesday and in Seoul from Tuesday to Thursday, the State Department said.
The US wants to press ahead with “verified denuclearisation” of North Korea but Pyongyang has ignored South Korean calls for dialogue recently.
Mr Trump and Mr Kim have met three times to discuss ways of resolving worldwide concerns over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, but little progress has been made.
On Friday, a North Korean government spokesperson criticised South Korean President Moon Jae-in for continuing to hold military exercises with the US.
The South and the US confirmed they are holding exercises but have said they are computer simulated, rather than involving actual troops or planes.
The North insists even the downsized drills violate agreements between Mr Kim and Mr Trump.
The test firing occurred on the 74th anniversary of the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea, at the end of the Second World War.
23 hurt as Russian passenger jet hits flock of birds and makes emergency landing | World News
The Ural Airlines A321, carrying 226 passengers and a crew of seven, hit the gulls as it took off from the capital’s Zhukovsky international airport en route for Simferopol in Crimea.
The birds got into both of the plane’s engines and caused a malfunction, the airline said.
The pilot then made an emergency landing in a cornfield about half a mile from the airport.
Elena Mikheyeva, a spokeswoman for Russia’s civil aviation authority, said the engines were turned off when it made the emergency landing and also had its landing gear up.
State media has called the landing the “miracle over Ramensk” – in reference to the district where the plane came down.
There have also been comparisons with US Airways Flight 1549 which landed on the Hudson River in 2009 after striking a flock of geese.
Twenty-three people, including five children, were taken to hospital after the Moscow incident, Russian health authorities said.
Those injured were “considered to be in serious or fair condition”, it said.
Ural Airlines praised the crew for their professionalism over the evacuation.
The company said the captain is a highly experienced pilot who had flown for over 3,000 hours.
It added the plane was significantly damaged and would not fly again.
An official investigation is under way.
Footage from the scene showed the flight commander directing passengers to walk away from the jet across the cornfield.
Collisions between birds and planes are common in aviation, and while a single bird is rarely dangerous, multiple bird strikes, or hitting large birds such as Canada Geese, can and has caused serious accidents.
China ‘will not sit on its hands’ over Hong Kong protests – Beijing’s UK ambassador | World News
It came as new pictures emerged showing the build up of armed forces in the city of Shenzhen, just across the border with Hong Long.
The ambassador, Liu Xiaoming, told a news conference in London that if the situation deteriorates in the region, which is Chinese territory but operates under a different system to the rest of China, it would act to “quell unrest”.
It came after months of anti-China protests which in the last few days have led to the airport, one of the busiest in the world, being closed.
Mr Xiaoming told reporters: “If the situation deteriorates into uncontrollable unrest, the central government will not sit by and watch, we have enough power to quell the unrest.
“We have enough solutions and enough power within the limits of basic law to quell any unrest swiftly. Their moves are severe and violent offences, and already shows signs of terrorism.
“The central government of China will never allow a few violent offenders to drag Hong Kong down a dangerous road, down a dangerous abyss.”
Pictures released by agencies showed dozens of trucks and armoured personnel carriers and hundreds of troops massing outside the Shenzhen Bay stadium in Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong in China’s southern Guangdong province.
The stadium is just across a bridge that is one of the main access roads between the mainland and Hong Kong.
Mr Liu also turned his attention to Britain, saying some politicians in the UK still regard Hong Kong as part of the British Empire.
He said: “Good relations between the UK and China have to be based on no UK interference by the UK in China’s internal affairs.”
Pro-Beijing Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam had warned earlier that the region was in a “state of… chaos” and could enter “the abyss”.
Sky News reported on Tuesday as protesters brought departures at the international airport to a halt, amid violent skuffles with two people they accused of supporting Beijing.
Mass protests have been taking place across the territory since June, originally against a bill which would have allowed people to be extradited to the mainland.
Some have involved hundreds of thousands of people and many have ended in clashes between the protesters and police.
Mr Liu added that they were extremists masquerading as democracy protesters who were dragging Hong Kong “down a dangerous road”.
“We hope this will end in an orderly way,” he said. “In the meantime we are fully prepared for the worst.”
Earlier, US president Donald Trump suggested trade talks with China could wait until tensions in Hong Kong have eased.
He tweeted: “Of course China wants to make a deal. Let them work humanely with Hong Kong first!”
Praising Chinese President Xi Jinping, calling him a “great leader”, he added: “I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it. Personal meeting?”
Mr Liu appeared to respond by saying: “Foreign forces must stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs, stop conniving in violent offences – they should not misjudge the situation and go down the wrong path otherwise they will lift the stone only to drop it on their own feet.
“Evidence shows the situation would not have deteriorated so much had it not been for the interference and incitement of foreign forces.
“Hong Kong is part of China. No foreign country should interfere in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.”
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