North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, March 28, 2018.
KCNA / via Reuters

In late March, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who had not stepped foot outside the hermit kingdom since taking power in 2011, traveled to Beijing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time. The encounter came amid two decades of declining relations between North Korea and China, with its worst period yet under Xi—only six high-level bilateral exchanges had taken place over the past six years, compared to 54 during the presidency of his predecessor, Hu Jintao.

As I previously argued in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs, Beijing had grown wary of Kim’s provocations and was “no longer wedded to North Korea’s survival.” It was remarkable, then, that Xi had extended the invitation to Kim. Has there been a sudden thaw in diplomatic relations? And if so, what does this apparent reversal signify?

On the surface, Xi appears driven by a desire for

To read the full article

  • ORIANA SKYLAR MASTRO is Assistant Professor of Security Studies at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a Jeane Kirkpatrick Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
  • More By Oriana Skylar Mastro