Kim now courts China's backing as US hovers in the background
While US President Donald Trump waits in the wings, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arrived in Beijing yesterday for his fourth summit with China's Xi Jinping - yet another nod to the leader Mr Kim most needs to court as he tries to undermine support for international sanctions while giving up little, if any, ground on denuclearisation.
Mr Kim's four-day visit comes after he expressed frustration in his new year's address over the lack of progress in negotiations with Washington since his unprecedented summit with Mr Trump in Singapore seven months ago.
If things don't improve - meaning that if sanctions relief and security guarantees aren't in the offing - Mr Kim warned that Pyongyang might have to find "a new way" forward.
The meeting with Mr Xi could have a big impact on Mr Trump's efforts to get Mr Kim to abandon his hard-won nuclear arsenal. He has said he expects to meet Mr Kim again soon. But his own relationship with Mr Xi is deteriorating amid an escalating tariff battle and his attentions are scattered over a wide array of domestic issues.
Mr Kim's arrival in Beijing, on his birthday, underscores how important China is, and always has been, in the North Korean leader's eyes. That's a well-known fact. But it's often been lost in the glare of post-Singapore showboating.
Until news of Mr Kim's departure for Beijing broke late on Monday, attention outside North Korea had been focused on when, or whether, he would be making his first and much-anticipated trip to Seoul.
Then there was talk that another US-North Korea summit was near and officials were negotiating where it would take place. Vietnam's capital, Hanoi, was reportedly on the short list.
Mr Kim's statement about how he might have to choose a "new way" to guarantee the North's sovereignty and secure a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula caught the eye of many foreign analysts.
Ruediger Frank, a professor of East Asian economy and society at the University of Vienna, suggested it was the most important passage in the entire speech, reflecting an "almost exuberant" confidence in the growing and reliable support of China.
"I thus interpret Kim's threat of 'finding a new way' not as a hint at more nuclear tests," he wrote, "but rather as a message to Donald Trump: you are not our only option for security and economic development."