Rocket man heads to China

The North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un “must be pleased with himself”, says the FT. His mixture of “nuclear blackmail and Olympic diplomacy” has seen world leaders lining up to “secure face time” with him.

There’s the promised summit with Donald Trump. Japan and Russia are “clamouring” for meetings, too. But Kim’s biggest win was last week’s meeting with President Xi Jinping in Beijing. China is “worried about being sidelined in the process of rapprochement between Washington and Pyongyang”.

With good reason, says Cary Huang in the South China Morning Post. The Korean peninsula serves as a “strategic buffer” against the US. Indeed, finding a way to “evict US troops from South Korea” is a goal China shares with North Korea, says Roger Boyes in The Times. And although China also wants North Korea to “give up the bomb”, it is more “unnerved” by the idea of regime collapse on its border, adds Philip Stephens in the FT. Thanks to Pyongyang’s reliance on China for energy and food, Beijing has huge leverage.

Trump’s aim, meanwhile, is the “irreversible scrapping” of Kim’s nukes, says The Times. But the most realistic outcome of any negotiations is that Kim will “dissemble, benefit from the easing of sanctions”, and spin out talks so as “to covertly refine” his rocketry.

He hasn’t forgotten what happened to Colonel Gaddafi when he gave up his plans for a nuclear arsenal. And by threatening to blow up the “only other recent deal to control a nuclear programme, with Iran”, Trump has shown him that the US “cannot be trusted”, says The New York Times.

It is hard to see a way through this “tangle”, says Stephens, but if there is one it “resides in a Sino-American agreement” that underwrites the territorial integrity of North Korea and the security of Kim’s regime. With the backing of both powers, “the offer could be made to Mr Kim in a manner… he could not refuse”.