AT&T’s C.E.O. Regretted Paying Michael Cohen: DealBook Briefing


Yet it also said that its legislative affairs team would now report to the telecom’s general counsel, David McAtee. The team’s senior executive vice president, Bob Quinn, will be “retiring.”

Here’s the full text of the memo, which was obtained by DealBook:

Our company has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons these last few days and our reputation has been damaged. There is no other way to say it – AT&T hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant was a big mistake.

To be clear, everything we did was done according to the law and entirely legitimate. But the fact is, our past association with Cohen was a serious misjudgment. In this instance, our Washington D.C. team’s vetting process clearly failed, and I take responsibility for that. Here is more information on this issue, if you’re interested.

For the foreseeable future, the External & Legislative Affairs (E&LA) group will report to our General Counsel David McAtee. Bob Quinn, Senior Executive Vice President – E&LA, will be retiring.

David’s number one priority is to ensure every one of the individuals and firms we use in the political arena are people who share our high standards and who we would be proud to have associated with AT&T.

To all of you who work tirelessly every day to serve customers and represent the brand proudly, thank you. My personal commitment to you is – we will do better.

Randall

In a separate document, the company discussed several other points about the hiring of Essential Consultants— including the fact that Mr. Cohen approached AT&T:

Michael Cohen approached our External Affairs organization during the post-election transition period and said he was going to leave the Trump Organization and do consulting for a select few companies that wanted his opinion on the new President and his administration – the key players, their priorities, and how they think.

The company also noted that it had hired “political consultants” in the past, especially at the beginning of new administrations.

The AT&T memo comes after Novartis’s C.E.O. of three months, Vasant Narasimhan told his employees on Thursday that the revelations of the drug company’s $1.2 million contract with Mr. Cohen led to “not a good day for Novartis.” (The contract was signed under Mr. Narasimhan’s predecessor.)

The big issue: It’s not clear that Novartis, seeking counsel on issues like drug pricing, or AT&T, which wanted advice on its Time Warner deal and net neutrality, got much from Mr. Cohen in the end. (The Justice Department sued to block AT&T’s transaction, after all.)

In other Michael Cohen news: The Treasury Department has begun an inquiry into how Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’s lawyer, obtained Mr. Cohen’s bank records.

— Michael de la Merced

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Wu Xiaohui, former chairman of Anbang.

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Thomas Peter/Reuters

Behind China’s debt crackdown

As Beijing metes out tough prison sentences — the former chairman of Anbang Insurance Group, once a highflier, just got 18 years — and lets shadow lenders wither, China is signaling that it is serious about its debt problem. (The total was 256 percent of G.D.P. as of last year.)

Debt appears to be one of the things that keep President Xi Jinping awake. From a 2016 speech highlighted by the NYT:

“Some financial risks are longstanding, lurking sources of infection that are concealed very deep but may erupt in a flash. The United States subprime crisis erupted in a night. If we’re going to have big trouble in the future, it could well be in this area, and this demands high vigilance.”

(Another of his worries: losing a tech race to the West.)

But reducing debt will be difficult, as Christopher Lee of S.&P. Global told the NYT: “Like any deleveraging campaign, it is not painless.”

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Oil rig pumpjacks, which extract crude.

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David Mcnew/Reuters

What’s on our economic radar

Oil: Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts are talking about $100 a barrel next year. Military exchanges between Israel and Iran haven’t helped. (But the Blackstone Group appears ready to profit if prices rise.)

Lending: It has been a huge driver of economic growth, but has slowed in recent years, Peter Eavis writes. In March, bank loans to companies rose just 2.5 percent, compared with an average of 7 percent over the past three years; corporate bond issuance is down 14 percent from last year. The longer credit growth lags, the less likely a Trump boom becomes.

Trade: While Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the U.S. had made progress in negotiations with China, there’s more to do. And if the White House wants a new Nafta deal passed this year, House Speaker Paul Ryan says the deadline for a final version is next Thursday.

Stocks: Third Point’s Dan Loeb thinks that investors are getting worried about companies’ trading multiples and is looking for signs of a looming recession.

The political flyaround

• Rudy Giuliani resigned from the law firm Greenberg Traurig, which then undercut his claims about payments to Stormy Daniels. (NYT)

• President Trump is expected to drop a campaign pledge to have Medicare negotiate lower drug prices. The F.D.A. acknowledged a shortage of EpiPens.

• What automakers are likely to raise with Mr. Trump at a C.E.O.s’ meeting today. (NYT)

• The White House’s choice for assistant Treasury secretary for international finance, Adam Lerrick, has withdrawn. (Politico)

• Scott Pruitt dined in Rome with a cardinal who has denounced action against climate change as “pagan emptiness” (and who faces sexual abuse charges). A White House spokesman said yesterday that allegations against the E.P.A. chief “have raised some concerns.”

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Nicolas Asfouri/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

What happens when Apple and Goldman Sachs team up?

They’re working on an Apple Pay-branded credit card. That would let Apple juice its services revenue as iPhone sales slow, and Goldman expand its consumer lending to make up for falling trading revenue. The loser: Barclays, whom Goldman would replace.

But they would face challenges. More from Tripp Mickle and Liz Hoffman of the WSJ:

The push into credit cards is fraught for Goldman, whose track record in consumer finance is scarcely two years old. Credit cards are a cutthroat business dominated by larger rivals like JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup. Yields are falling. And Goldman lacks much of the infrastructure to be able to issue credit cards and process payments to merchants.

Elsewhere in financial services: Morale at Deutsche Bank’s U.S. operations is dropping. Bank of America spoke of selling its piece of a loan to Remington Outdoor.

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Andy Samberg, left, and Andre Braugher in Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

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John P. Fleenor/Fox

The deals flyaround

• Media M.&A. moves have clouded the fate of television shows. (That said, R.I.P. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”) What Liberty Media’s Greg Maffei thinks of the deal making.

• Silver Lake agreed to buy ZPG, a British online real estate platform operator, for about $3 billion. (Bloomberg)

• We like the code names in Takeda Pharmaceutical’s deal for Shire: Takeda was “Yamazaki,” Shire “Hibiki.” (Bloomberg)

• Dan Loeb’s Third Point is reportedly in talks to set up a blank-check acquisition company. (Reuters)

• Why Alphabet might invest in Flipkart alongside Walmart. Robinhood, an online brokerage, has raised $363 million at a $5.6 billion valuation from the likes of DST Global. New Zealand’s sovereign wealth fund has invested $65 million in Rubicon Global, a trash-collecting start-up.

• Volvo’s parent company has reportedly hired Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to run an I.P.O. The biggest I.P.O. of the year so far, AXA Equitable, fell in initial trading. Thoma Bravo is reportedly considering an I.P.O. or sale of Dynatrace, a business software maker.

• Saint-Gobain of France dropped its long-running takeover bid for a Swiss rival, Sika. (FT)

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Eric Thayer for The New York Times

See thousands of the Russian ads that ran on Facebook

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee published 3,519 ads bought by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian entity accused of interfering in the 2016 presidential election. Their target audiences include fans of Sean Hannity and supporters of Black Lives Matter. Facebook conceded that it was “too slow to spot this type of information operations interference,” but said it was working to prevent such abuse.

Elsewhere in Facebook: A Calstrs portfolio manager compared the company’s dual-class stock structure to a “dictatorship.” (Note: The New York Times Company also has dual-class stock.)

Cryptocurrency corner: Huawei is giving its users easier access to Bitcoin. Cryptocurrency-inspired art is now a thing, with a disintegrating portrait of Jamie Dimon fetching $33,000.

Elsewhere in tech: SoftBank’s Masa Son has changed tech investing, for good and bad. Amazon has reportedly stopped buying “Shopping” ads in Google results. Apple has scrapped plans for a $1 billion data center in Ireland. How Didi Chuxing teamed up with Uber’s biggest rival in Brazil, 99. Panasonic is reportedly hesitant to invest more in a battery partnership with Tesla.

Revolving door

• JPMorgan Chase named Chris Berthe as global head of cash equities execution, leading teams that electronically match stock buyers and sellers. (CNBC)

• Moelis & Company has hired Anuj Mathur as a managing director specializing in internet and digital media investment banking. (Moelis)

The speed read

• Spotify said it would stop promoting or recommending music by artists whose conduct or content it deemed offensive, including R. Kelly. (NYT)

• Elaine Wynn has emerged as a champion of shareholder rights and good corporate governance. (NYT)

• The novelist Junot Díaz, facing sexual misconduct allegations at M.I.T., is stepping down as chairman of the Pulitzer Prize board. (NYT)

• Marchesa, the brand codesigned by Harvey Weinstein’s estranged wife Georgina Chapman, is making a comeback with the support of Anna Wintour and Scarlett Johansson. (NYT)

• Bloomberg Philanthropies is investing $43 million in more than 20 small and midsize cultural organizations in seven cities. (NYT)

• MoviePass has competition. (Wired)

We’d love your feedback. Please email thoughts and suggestions to bizday@nytimes.com.

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Reporter’s Notebook: How’s the Air in London? ‘We Should Be Worried’


By the time I reached São Paulo, I was desperate to get out.

‘It’s Dangerous’

A vast majority of the visitors to Mr. Pinsky’s pollution pods either scrunched up their faces or covered their noses as soon as they breathed in the scent of diesel.

“It’s nasty,” said Maria Jones, 35, a London resident of 10 years. “You don’t notice it that much out there, maybe because it’s spread out. But if it’s really this bad, then it’s dangerous and we should be worried.”

Anna Whiston, a 24-year-old paralegal who recently moved to London from the countryside, said the pollution in the city was invisible, but she noticed it through her physical symptoms.

“In the mornings I cough a lot, and when I blow my nose, it’s all dark,” she said.

Visitors generally started slowly in the cleanest air pod and moved faster as the air quality deteriorated. Many coughed and sneezed, and some children cried and ran out.

Meredith Pistulka, 26, who moved to London from Florida this year, kept sneezing even after she left the domes.

“London and Florida have very different air quality,” she said. “I can’t run here. I tried — and I almost died from coughing.”

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Somerset House raised a new Union Jack flag that will change color as it reacts to London’s air quality in real time.

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Peter Macdiarmid for Somerset House

Ms. Pistulka and her boyfriend said they recently bought plants to help improve the air quality in their apartment.

“I don’t think Londoners realize just how bad the problem is,” said Madeline Corbett, a medical student who visited the pods for a second time. “Politicians talk about the issue when it’s at its peak and then people quickly forget. We need more exhibitions like this to make the issue visible to the public.”

‘A Blackened Union Jack’

Mr. Pinsky said people’s experiences in the pods were subjective and depended on what levels of pollution they were exposed to daily. He recalled the experience of one couple from a rural part of Ireland who started gagging when they entered the New Delhi room and had to exit immediately.

The pods are climatically controlled and contain various levels of ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Somerset House was chosen for the installation, which will end on Wednesday, because “this courtyard was deliberately built with no nature in it to demonstrate how mankind could make something more beautiful than nature,” Mr. Pinsky said.

To mark Earth Day, Somerset House raised a new Union Jack flag that will change color as it reacts to London’s air quality in real time. The flag, created by the artist Lauren Bowker, will transform from red, white and blue to gray and black as it reacts to levels of radiation exposure.

“A blackened Union Jack,” Ms. Corbett remarked as she drew a picture of the flag in her notebook. “That’s so symbolic of what will happen to us if we don’t act soon.”

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Kim Jong-un’s China Visit Strengthens His Hand in Nuclear Talks


In images and in words, Mr. Kim and Mr. Xi signaled that they had repaired the relationship between their countries, which had soured as Mr. Kim had accelerated his nuclear program and Mr. Xi had responded by endorsing — and enforcing — more punishing sanctions proposed by the United States.

“The friendship between North Korea and China that was personally created and nurtured together by former generations of leaders from both our sides is unshakable,” Mr. Kim told Mr. Xi, according to Xinhua. Mr. Xi went out of his way to recall the warm friendship between his father, a high-ranking Communist Party official from the Mao era, and Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, the North’s previous leader.

It is too soon to say whether the meeting marks a softening of China’s posture toward Mr. Kim or of its commitment to international sanctions against North Korea. But the visit served to highlight Beijing’s unique leverage over North Korea, even as Mr. Trump is threatening China with a trade war.

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Mr. Kim, Mr. Xi and their wives at a banquet in Beijing this week. The visit highlighted Beijing’s unique leverage over North Korea, even as President Trump is threatening China with a trade war.

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North Korean Central News Agency

Mr. Trump can talk about maintaining “maximum pressure” on the North, but ultimately China — the North’s main trade partner — still decides what that means, because it can choose how strictly to enforce sanctions.

“China is saying to the United States and the rest of the world: Anyone who wants a deal on anything on the future of the Korean Peninsula, and certainly something which deals with nukes, don’t think you can walk around us, guys,” Kevin Rudd, a former Australian prime minister who is on good terms with the Chinese leadership, said in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

The Chinese government said it had briefed the White House on Mr. Kim’s visit, adding that Mr. Xi had sent a personal message to Mr. Trump. On Wednesday morning, Mr. Trump expressed optimism on Twitter about the potential for diplomatic success, saying there was “a good chance” that Mr. Kim would “do what is right for his people and for humanity.”

But there was little in the public accounts of Mr. Xi’s discussions with Mr. Kim to support such a positive assessment. Though Xinhua quoted Mr. Kim as saying he was open to talks with Mr. Trump and committed to denuclearization, North Korea’s own state media made no mention of either.

Xinhua also quoted Mr. Kim as proposing “phased, synchronized measures” by South Korea and the United States — a phrase that suggests a desire to negotiate a gradual drawdown of his arsenal, but which also echoes the North’s position in past talks that dragged on and ultimately failed. One major difference between then and now is that North Korea has a far more advanced nuclear arsenal.

Mr. Trump’s incoming national security adviser, John R. Bolton, meanwhile, has expressed little patience for extended negotiations. He has said that North Korea should be asked to park its nuclear arsenal at the Oak Ridge nuclear facility in Tennessee.

If China decides to soften its stance on sanctions and act as North Korea’s protector, Mr. Kim will enter the talks with Mr. Trump in a considerably stronger position than he otherwise would have.

“It is very unlikely that Kim Jong-un consulted with the Chinese before offering to meet Trump,” said Sergey Radchenko, a professor of international relations at Cardiff University in Wales. “This in itself was a rebellious affront to the Chinese leadership. But by doing this, Kim immeasurably strengthened his negotiating position vis-à-vis the Chinese. He came to Beijing not as a supplicant but as an equal.”

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Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, left, in Beijing with then-President Jiang Zemin of China in 2000. When this visit took place, Mr. Kim — like his son today — had held power in North Korea for about six years and was preparing for a summit meeting with South Korea’s president.

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Xinhua, via Associated Press

Many analysts said they believed China had initiated the visit, essentially telling Mr. Kim that he could no longer afford to be cavalier about his bigger, richer neighbor, and telegraphing to Mr. Trump that America could pay heavily for keeping China on the outside.

Beneath the new bonhomie in the official accounts of Mr. Kim’s trip, the edgy nature of the seven-decade-old China-North Korea relationship was still apparent.

No agreements between the two leaders were announced, even on basic issues. Mr. Xi, in his public comments, made no reference to Mr. Kim’s expected meeting with Mr. Trump, an omission that may have reflected Mr. Xi’s displeasure at being left on the sidelines.

There was also no public comment in Beijing about what Mr. Kim was planning to offer Mr. Trump or what role China would play as the talks approached, questions that are of the utmost importance to China.

While China supports the international effort to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons, it has also been careful not to press the North hard enough to risk a collapse of the Kim regime, which could potentially lead to a united Korean Peninsula, under an American security umbrella, on China’s border.

“China needs to know North Korea’s calculations,” said Da Wei, a professor at the University of International Relations in Beijing. “Kim knows the negotiations cannot fully succeed without China’s support. China’s involvement will make any solution more viable.”

Some analysts said Mr. Kim was repeating a pattern set by his father, who visited China shortly before his 2000 summit meeting with South Korea’s then-president, Kim Dae-jung. Kim Jong-il was then about six years into his tenure as North Korea’s leader, just as his son is now.

“Now six years into his own reign, Kim III seeks to play the role of the proactive, peace-seeking statesman,” said Lee Sung-yoon of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

He may hope to get Mr. Trump to settle for “another faulty, open-ended, non-biting nuclear deal” that would make it “politically near-impossible for the U.S. to talk about, let alone implement, a pre-emptive strike, John Bolton at the head of the National Security Council notwithstanding,” Mr. Lee said.

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When Xi Met Kim: How China and North Korea Depicted It


Kim’s Confident Debut

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This image of Mr. Xi appearing to offer a toast to Mr. Kim appeared in North Korea’s state media, but not China’s.

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Korean Central News Agency

While the Chinese news media published less flattering images of Mr. Kim, the North Korean media made sure he came across at home as charismatic, showing him smiling and offering a forceful handshake to Mr. Xi.

The state-run media showed photos of Mr. Kim’s extensive motorcade as well as Mr. Xi appearing to offer a toast to Mr. Kim. Those images did not appear in the Chinese media.

Mr. Kim, making his debut on the global stage, was most likely eager to show he was a respected figure who could hold his own with one of the world’s most powerful leaders. In North Korea he was depicted, without exception, as strong and in charge.

Ideological Brethren

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Both countries’ state media — including Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency, which released this photo — depicted China and North Korea as ideological comrades.

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Korean Central News Agency

Mao Zedong once said China and North Korea, longtime Communist allies, were as “close as lips and teeth.”

But relations between the two countries have been strained in recent decades. However, there was no hint of that tension in the coverage of Mr. Kim’s visit this week.

The Chinese and the North Korean news media portrayed the two countries as ideological comrades. Mr. Kim was welcomed in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, as a military band played. News reports said he and Mr. Xi watched an art performance together, joined by their wives.

Orville Schell, director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society in New York, described the pageantry as a “renaissance of the old socialist-style, big-leader rituals.”

“They certainly didn’t just sneak him in the back door,” he said of Mr. Kim. “It looked like he got pretty close to the full monty.”

Personal Chemistry

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Mr. Kim waving before departing on Tuesday from a Beijing railway station, in a photo released by KCNA.

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Korean Central News Agency

Both men seemed eager to convey that they have a renewed commitment to working together, and a personal chemistry that will unite them.

Mr. Xi showed considerable warmth toward Mr. Kim, smiling widely and offering affectionate embraces. Mr. Kim returned the fondness, waving enthusiastically as he departed.

The budding alliance between the two leaders may put new pressure on President Trump, who is expected to meet with Mr. Kim in the coming weeks. While the location for a meeting has not yet been decided, some analysts say that Mr. Xi may be angling to have it in Beijing.

“That would make Trump like the three-wheel bicycle,” Mr. Schell said. “He would have to go to Beijing again, and almost be the supplicant to these old allies that have patched up their marriage.”

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Kim Jong-un Met Xi Jinping in Secret Beijing Visit, China Says


The visit suggested that Mr. Kim values or needs China’s approval — and possibly its advice — as he seeks to capitalize on a risky diplomatic opening with President Trump after more than a year of tension and threats.

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Mr. Kim traveled to and from Beijing in a green armored train much like the one that his father, Kim Jong-il, used when he ruled the North.

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Jason Lee/Reuters

Yang Xiyu, one of China’s leading experts on North Korea, said that Mr. Kim was clearly trying to repair the North’s deeply strained relations with Beijing, its traditional ally and benefactor, while opening new ties with its enemy South Korea.

Even so, Mr. Yang said, that did not signal that Mr. Kim was willing to give up his nuclear arsenal, though he has told South Korean envoys that he was prepared to discuss the possibility.

“He is starting a new game where he could make concessions on denuclearization,” Mr. Yang said. “At most, he will cut the grass, but he will not pull out the roots.”

The Trump administration has made it clear that it will not tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea able to launch ballistic missiles that could strike the United States. Those in Washington who favor a forceful approach with the North were bolstered last week by the appointment of John Bolton as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser; only a month ago, Mr. Bolton warned that a pre-emptive strike on North Korea’s arsenal would be a “perfectly legitimate” response to a threat to the American mainland.

After months of increasing political and economic pressure, North Korea’s once-defiant tone has shifted dramatically since January, for which some have credited Mr. Trump’s threats of military action.

Last month, the North sent a delegation to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, led by Mr. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, and the North’s nominal head of state, Kim Yong-nam. They put on a charm offensive that led to direct talks with the South Koreans, plans for a meeting between Mr. Kim and the South’s president, Moon Jae-in, and then an extraordinary offer to meet directly with Mr. Trump.

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Kim Yong-nam, left, North Korea’s nominal head of state, and Kim Yo-jong, the sister of the North Korean leader, with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, right, in Seoul, South Korea, in February. The North Koreans’ visit led to direct talks with the South Koreans.

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Bae Jae-Man/Yonhap, via Associated Press

The meeting with Mr. Moon is set to take place next month on the Koreas’ border, while Mr. Trump is to hold his own talks with Mr. Kim by May, at a site still to be determined.

Now, with no prior fanfare, Mr. Xi has become the first major foreign leader to meet Mr. Kim.

Their meeting may help ease tensions between China and the North after years of deepening rancor. China supports the international efforts to rein in the North’s nuclear weapons development, but experts say it also wants to keep the North as a stable buffer on its northeast border.

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said that despite the recent strains in the relationship, it was not surprising that the North Koreans would turn to China at this moment — one that would be pivotal for any leader, let alone one as untested as Mr. Kim.

“Kim Jong-un is now in a most difficult economic situation, and he faces a gamble to meet Trump,” Mr. Shi said.

Since Mr. Kim took power after his father’s death more than six years ago, Chinese officials and experts have become increasingly disdainful of him for ignoring Beijing’s entreaties to halt his nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests.

While China has never entirely turned its back on North Korea, it has grown increasingly alarmed by the nuclear tests, which have brought threats of dire punishment from Mr. Trump. Under that pressure, Beijing has backed increasingly stringent United Nations sanctions that have reduced the North’s exports of coal, seafood and other goods to China.

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Security officers on Tuesday outside the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, where the North Korean delegation is believed to have stayed. Neither China nor North Korea acknowledged Kim Jong-un’s visit until it was over.

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Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press

Mr. Kim’s Beijing visit underscores the historic bonds between the two countries, forged in shared experiences of war and Communist revolution.

China backed North Korean forces in the Korean War of 1950-53, during which hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers died. Mr. Kim may be following an example set by his father, Kim Jong-il, in appealing to those ties after a period of tension.

The elder Mr. Kim’s first visit to China — in 2000 — also came roughly six years after he took power, and shortly before a planned summit meeting with South Korea. Before then, China and North Korea had gone through years of strain after Beijing established diplomatic relations with Seoul in 1992.

There were other similarities between the two visits, including Kim Jong-un’s furtive, unannounced arrival aboard an armored train, which was first spotted at North Korea’s border with China near the city of Dandong.

On Monday evening and Tuesday morning, the only evidence of Mr. Kim’s presence in Beijing was heightened security around the North Korean Embassy and the government guesthouse where the delegation stayed, as well as the comings and goings of large motorcades of black sedans and sport utility vehicles with police escorts.

Neither China nor North Korea acknowledged the visit while Mr. Kim was in Beijing. A spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hua Chunying, deflected a question about it at a daily briefing, saying there was nothing to report.

In Seoul, a presidential aide told reporters on Tuesday that South Korea was closely watching “what is unfolding in Beijing.” He added that it was a good sign that North Korea and China were improving ties before the coming summit talks.

During his 2000 visit, Kim Jong-il toured Chinese special economic zones, as Chinese leaders sought to show him the merits of opening markets. But the current North Korean leader apparently made no such side trips. By Tuesday evening, his train had left Beijing’s central station, headed toward Pyongyang, the North’s capital.

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Bulletproof, Slow and Full of Wine: Kim Jong-un’s Mystery Train


North Korea’s state news media has occasionally covered the leaders from inside the train, offering a rare glimpse at some of the many specialized cars.

In 2015, Kim Jong-un was seen seated at a long white table in what appeared to be a conference room. In a similar video from 2011, his father, Kim Jong-il, is seen holding court in the same venue. In the older video, a flat screen television is clearly visible, and in the more recent one a laptop computer is seen.

In footage of the elder Mr. Kim’s trips, the leader is seen in an audience car with plush seats, leading a meeting in a dining car and attending a banquet in a car paneled in dark wood. In that footage, Mr. Kim is seated at a table filled with food as entertainers perform in tuxedos and evening gowns.

The former leader’s office car, including a desk and computer, is preserved as a museum exhibit at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, Kim Jong-il’s mausoleum in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

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Kim Jong-il, the former leader of North Korea, on board his train in 2006. He was rumored to have had a fear of flying and preferred to travel on his train.

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Yonhap/EPA, via Shutterstock

Lobster, wine and ‘lady conductors’

Kim Jong-il was rumored to have had a fear of flying and preferred to travel on his train, which was outfitted with modern communications technology and a large staff that catered to his whims.

“It was possible to order any dish of Russian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and French cuisine,” wrote Konstantin Pulikovsky, a Russian official who traveled with the former leader during a 2011 trip through Russia.

Mr. Kim insisted that live lobster and other fresh delicacies be delivered to the train as it crossed Siberia on trips to Russia. Cases of Bordeaux and Burgundy wines were flown in from Paris, Mr. Pulikovsky recounted in his memoir of the trip, “Orient Express.”

When bored, Mr. Kim relied on a group of female entertainers known as lady conductors to serenade him in Korean and Russian.

It is unknown what his son, Kim Jong-un, does for nourishment and entertainment while on board, but the younger Mr. Kim’s appetite is known to rival his father’s. He reportedly prefers Swiss cheese, Cristal Champagne and Hennessy cognac.

Tragedies on the tracks

The train has been at the center of several events in modern North Korean history.

More than 3,000 people were killed in Ryongchon, near the Chinese border, in April 2004, when trains laden with combustible material exploded because of a collision or an electrical malfunction.

There were initial rumors that the explosion was part of an attempt on Kim Jong-il’s life because the leader’s train had passed through the town hours earlier.

According to the state news media, he would later die on board his train after a heart attack in December 2011.

The arrival of the train in Beijing on Monday led to speculation that his son Kim Jong-un was meeting with Chinese officials to prepare for planned peace talks with South Korea and the United States.

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Beijing Journal: A Beijing Bookstore Where George Washington Is on the Shelves


A large image of Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and freethinker, stands out among a galaxy of literary posters lining the wall of the entry staircase, a taste of what’s to come.

“China is not a liberal society, it’s not a free country,” Mr. Liu said, sitting in a quiet corner of the Thinkers Cafe, a mellow hangout within the store that meanders along a side corridor to a small back room furnished with antique Chinese furniture.

“But the bookstore is a way to express our longing for freedom and our hope for the establishment of a free society,” he said.

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The Thinkers Cafe, a mellow hangout within the store.

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Bryan Denton for The New York Times

A new patron would be forgiven for believing the owner had a lively sense of irony. One of the first books to catch the eye on the front table is an 11th edition of “Robert’s Rules of Order.”

The book is a recent hot seller. That is not because members of the Communist Party want to introduce parliamentary procedures written by a 19th-century American Army major to their gatherings. Chinese executives and entrepreneurs buy the volume for business reasons: to learn how to conduct a product conference, or manage a sales convention, Mr. Liu said.

A guide to running a democratic legislature, “How Parliament Works,” by an early 20th-century Canadian politician, Robert Rogers, is also on the front table.

“This is more politically sensitive,” Mr. Liu said. “Unfortunately, it is not as popular as Roberts.”

All Sages has the feel of a well-ordered, smaller version of the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan, though judging from the photos on the walls, Mr. Liu prefers comparisons with the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco and Shakespeare & Company in Paris. Three cats — sometimes tiptoeing over the books on the tables — add some charm.

A People’s Liberation Army veteran is in charge of the floor; he keeps displays in meticulous order and the wood floor noticeably clean. A few canvas bags and T-shirts with snappy slogans are for sale near the front desk, but the focus is on the books. The coffee in the cafe is not for lingering over.

A banner in English under the cash register reads, “I cannot live without books.” A copy of the Declaration of Independence hangs by the front door.

The clientele seems to be as varied as the books. The store is strategically located, within walking distance of China’s premier university campus, but people from all over the country drop by.

On a recent weekend, a manager of a chemical company in the southern city of Shenzhen pushed a trolley full of books to the cashier for dispatch home by air courier. High-ranking military officers, party officials, rich society figures and celebrity entrepreneurs are all customers.

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The books in All Sages are all in Chinese. That makes the selection dependent not only on the owner’s broad-ranging tastes, but on the Chinese publishing houses.

Credit
Bryan Denton for The New York Times

“It’s a secret what they buy,” Mr. Liu said. “But take a look at the books, and you will see.”

The books in All Sages are all in Chinese. That makes the selection dependent not only on Mr. Liu’s broad-ranging tastes, but on the Chinese publishing houses.

They, in turn, are subject to the Communist Party censors who control what is published by Chinese authors and foreign writers translated into Chinese.

The censorship is not a precise art, but it is a constant presence. Internal party guidelines on what is prohibited are passed from the propaganda apparatus to the bosses of the publishing houses, sometimes on a daily basis. They are never made public. Nor is any list of banned books.

Some basic rules prevail, Mr. Liu said. The first motivation of the censors is protection of the Communist Party. “Anything that explains the Communist Party as a threat is a red line,” he said.

This leads to some striking choices. Books about the Soviet Union’s labor camps are banned, but accounts of the Nazi concentration camps are tolerated. Histories of Castro’s rule in Cuba are not translated much; Cuba’s medical system compared too favorably with China’s overcrowded hospitals.

With about 600 large, state-run publishing houses and 3,000 smaller publishers attached to government agencies, some titles that annoy the government sometimes slip through the net. Publishers tend to be liberals and lovers of literature, and some of them want to publish good books. Some push the parameters.

So in an exception to the rule against maligning a Communist Party, one of Mr. Liu’s favorites, Arthur Koestler’s novel “Darkness at Noon,” about the Soviet gulag, was available in China for many years.

It was last published in 2006, however, and now appears to be banned. Secondhand editions of Koestler’s classic are available online for $50. The original price: $1.50.

Photo

A copy of the Declaration of Independence hangs by the front door.

Credit
Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Among the steady sellers at All Sages are books on American history and biographies of the early presidents — Washington and Jefferson in particular — and of Benjamin Franklin. The interest in America’s founding fathers is tied up with a thirst to know how America became a democratic and global power, Mr. Liu said.

Recent political books about presidential election campaigns do not appeal much to his clientele, Mr. Liu said. He said he would read Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” due out in Chinese soon, before stocking it.

Two standbys for Western liberals — Hannah Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism” and George Washington’s Farewell Address, which outlines his argument for term limits — have always sold well.

In the last several weeks, both works circulated on the Chinese internet, in a quiet protest against Mr. Xi’s decision to scrap the Chinese Constitution’s two-term limit for presidents. Most likely, the censors never read what Washington had to say, Mr. Liu said.

Weekends are the busiest time at the store, and on a recent Saturday the narrow aisles were packed, especially around the nonfiction shelves. Fiction is not the store’s strength.

There is plenty of Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro but no Joan Didion. Books on feminism merit only two shelves, a function of slow demand.

In the philosophy section, Sue Ping, 29, a Tsinghua University M.B.A. student dressed in a white sweater, jeans and a black beret, was searching for Plato’s “The Republic.” “For me, it’s paradise,” Ms. Ping said of the store. “I buy online but I come because I like the atmosphere. It’s very open, you feel welcome.”

A few shelves away, Daisy Fu, 45, a primary school science teacher, who came with her husband on their motorbike, was deciding whether to buy a book about North Korea. “A bookstore is a symbol of culture; we need it,” she said. “Even though I don’t come often, it’s important to know I can come and walk among the books.”

One book that Mr. Liu knows he will never be able to stock stands out. Works critical of Mao Zedong are automatically banned, and a sensational memoir, “A Life of Chairman Mao” by Li Zhisui, Mao’s personal doctor of many years, is considered a particular abomination. The book describes Mao as a tyrannical personality with a fiendish sexual appetite and appalling personal hygiene who suffered from a motor neuron disease in his last years.

“There is literally no way to get this book in China,” Mr. Liu said. “Just imagine if I put two copies on the shelves. The minimum punishment would be a fine of $3,000. The medium-level punishment would be shutting down the bookstore. And the most extreme would be the bookstore owner jailed for three to five years.”

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