Ten years ago, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or North Korea, snubbed China's defense minister on the 50th anniversary of the entry of the Chinese people's volunteers into the Korean War: Instead, Kim Jong Il hosted the first-ever visit by a U.S. secretary of state, Madeleine Albright. A mirror image of that snub was recently delivered to a former American president, marking North Korea's changed circumstances.
The snub to Beijing in 2000 arguably underscored the depth of North Korea's desire to balance its dependency on China by pursuing diplomatic normalization with the United States. Kim Jong Il coveted a visit by President Bill Clinton, but the clock ran out on that possibility as a result of the protracted uncertainty over the winner of the 2000 US presidential elections. Contrary to expectations of the involved parties, the Albright visit in combination with a visit to the White House months earlier by a senior representative of the Korean People's Army in retrospect marked a high point for U.S.-DPRK relations.