Holding talks on denuclearization and other regional issues, Chinese President Xi Jingping welcomed DPRK leader Kim Jong-Un to Beijing. The visit was the first foreign trip for Kim as Supreme Leader and signals a diplomatic effort to resolve tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The unofficial visit by Kim Jong-Un to China took place between Sunday and Wednesday. President Xi stressed the importance of China-DPRK ties to improve long-term, healthy relations that benefit the two countries for regional peace and stability in Northeast Asia. Global attention has mainly focused on what the meeting means for developments on the Korean Peninsula and tensions over the DPRK’s nuclear program.
President Xi reiterated that China will remain committed to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and Beijing has also called on all parties to support the improvement of inter-Korean ties that contribute to facilitating peace talks. According to the Xinhua News Agency, Kim Jong-Un said that the DPRK would also be committed to denuclearization on the peninsula and wants to improve ties with the ROK. The DPRK leader also reiterated that the DPRK is willing to have dialogue with the United States.
The highly secretive visit by Kim Jong-Un to Beijing is the most significant event over the past couple of years. By inviting the DPRK leader to Beijing, President Xi is bringing China centerstage as the most important player on the DPRK issue and China wants to use this opportunity to make sure that denuclearization can become a success and China will also object to a full-scale nuclear program by the DPRK so long as the DPRK is ready to drop its nuclear capabilities.
The timing of this meeting is quite important because it comes before Kim Jong-Un meets with ROK leader Moon Jae-In and in May with U.S President Trump. In terms of U.S involvement, President Xi made it very clear to Washington that China is a major player in dealing with the Korean Peninsula, but at the same time, from the DPRK point of view, Pyongyang made it very clear that they are not alone in dealing with the crisis.
In addition, both China and the DPRK want to see a peaceful resolution to the decades old deadlock on the peninsula which could also reduce the probabilities of a U.S military strike and possible regime change in the DPRK, which were options laid out by new National Security Advisor John Bolton.
The meeting between world leaders Xi Jingping and Kim Jong-Un was a clear demonstration that all roads lead to Beijing, and Beijing will have a great deal of influence in terms of what the outcome will be with regard to the upcoming negotiations between Kim Jong-Un and President Trump.
The White House did respond to the meeting by welcoming the dialogue between China and the DPRK but made it clear that maximum sanctions and pressure will remain at all costs. Kim Jong-Un is pretty much in the driver’s seat as a result of this meeting.
President Xi may be calling the shots at the macro-level, but we have seen for decades that every North Korean leader has been looking for a summit with an American president. This was not something that was imposed on Kim Jong-Un, but past leaders from Kim Il Sung to Kim Jong-Il have desperately been seeking direct negotiations with the United States.
The relationship between China and the DPRK is enduring on despite the efforts from Washington to isolate the DPRK. China has been consistent to resolving the Korean Peninsula issue in a peaceful manner and China is ready to accept the invitation for a summit between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump in May.
China is also opposed to a military option that would not only create a humanitarian disaster, but it could result in a reckless escalation of tensions on the peninsula. China has reached out to the White House on the Korean Peninsula in two ways. One is the commitment to denuclearization, and the other is an objection to a unilateral strike on the peninsula where everyone would suffer.
In the United States, one fo the fundamental assumptions made against North Korea is that Kim Jong-Un is an unreliable and irrational leader in terms of highlighting the imminent nuclear threat against the United States. But going through summit meetings with President Moon of South Korea and President Trump of the United States allows Kim to demonstrate that he is not an irrational person at all. From Pyongyang’s point of view, they see nuclear capability as a deterrent and a fundamental guarantee of the regime’s survival and security.
Going into this discussion with President Xi, Kim Jong-Un is confronted with a number of options on what the United States demands. The main demand from the United States is that a nuclearized North Korea certainly poses a serious threat to key U.S allies in the region like Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines, even to the U.s itself.
In addition, Chinese policymakers realize the importance of this issue in order for North Korea to move forward on a path towards denuclearization and normalized relations, as well as greater stability and economic security with all the regional players. However, in reality, Kim Jong-Un is in all likelihood not going to give up his nuclear weapons and it is almost inconceivable that he will do this. Kim talks about denuclearization, but his father Kim Jong-Il also talked about denuclearization, but denuclearization from the North Korean perspective is different from that of Trump and Bolton’s definition of denuclearization.
From Kim’s perspective, denuclearization could mean an end to all hostilities between North Korea and its adversaries (most principally the U.S, ROK, and Japan). In addition, denuclearization could also mean giving up a maturely developed nuclear program, but this could result in disappointment. However, denuclearization could result from North Korea having leverage to force the U.S and its allies to guarantee North Korea’s national security such as a reduction in U.S-ROK military drills.
Meanwhile in Washington, President Trump has replaced some key members. Mike Pompeo takes over in Foggy Bottom as Secretary of State, and John Bolton will be the new National Security Advisor, but the problem with these nominations is that Trump picked some serious hard-liners. Frighteningly, a military strike could be considered, but behind the scenes, this would look like a highly unlikely scenario.
In addition, there are no good military options and nobody who has looked at the military options thinks otherwise, and this is just a fact. The power in resolving the Korean Peninsula crisis lies in Beijing both on the positive and negative sides. China, if anyone, has the ability to persuade Kim Jong-Un to advance forward towards denuclearization either through massive incentives in an investment program or through not only the incentive of a military reprisal, but by backing up Kim’s chess moves for meeting regional world leaders sufficiently. Washington thinks it has the power to resolve this deadlock, but Beijing is the one who really has the power here.