By Wang Li*
From March 25 to 28, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un paid an unofficial visit to China. During the visit, Xi Jinping held talks with Kim in Beijing. This sudden visit surprised the world, yet the world leaders and heads of major international organizations have hailed as positive the meetings between Xi and Kim. For example, UN spokesman said in a statement that “the latest positive developments are the start of a longer process of sincere dialogue, leading to sustainable peace and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders then said, “We’re going to be cautiously optimistic, but we feel like things are moving in the right direction.”
Over the past year, the world has been concerned with and somehow confused with what role of China will be in the settlement of the nuclear issue of the Korean peninsula. Some scholars from both China and some other countries have even asserted that China has lost the leverage in a sense on the Korean nuclear issue. Actually, South Korea openly stated that China is expected to continue playing a leading role in the whole issue. If people are serious to read through the “Four-points” proposal by Xi during his meeting with Kim, it is self-evident that China has confidently and also quietly played the irreplaceable role in driving a peaceful settlement of the Korean issue.
Firstly, China once again comes back to play the “pivotal role” during the peace process in Northeast Asia after the six-party talks came to a halt year ago. True, China has insisted on diplomacy which means under the mandate of the UN Security Council to bring all parties concerned to the table. Now, Beijing has to navigate the course of denuclearization proactively to protect two sides’ common core security stakes when Kim reportedly promised to give up his nuclear program if the United States and South Korea respond his proposal with good will.
Second, China and North Korea agreed to resume their long-time traditional relationship, including party-to-party ties. As Xi frankly spoke, party-to-party and state-to-state relations are the common treasure to both sides. Then, safeguarding, consolidating and developing China- DPRK relations are unswerving guidelines for China’s foreign policy and security strategy. In light of the uncertainties in Sino-U.S. relations, it is vital for China to make sure that the Korean issue must be resolved through “purely peaceful mean”.
Third, Xi welcomed that both sides will increase high-level exchanges with a view to strengthening strategic communications and expand full cooperation. Given two sides’ shared destinies in geopolitical, economic development and now ideological affinity, China and North Korea have agreed to enhance their high-level exchanges that have played a leading role in promoting bilateral relations since the 1950s.
Fourth, Xi highlighted that China will continue to play its constructive role and stand ready to work with all parties, including the DPRK, to jointly strengthen China’s proposed dual-track approach, and work for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of long-term peace and stability in the region and the world. For the first time since he took power in 2011, Kim stated “he would work on carrying forward and developing the traditional DPRK-China friendship as required by the new era.”
Now it is still too early to say that the meeting between Kim and Trump as scheduled in May will be fruitful and friendly. But it is evident that China once again resumes its traditional role and huge regional influence in shaping peace and stability if not the security outlook in East Asia. In light of this, China will do what it can to help insure “no change of regime by force and denuclearization at the same time in the Korean Peninsula”.
In the meantime, it is necessary to be aware that the United States is still the key player in the region including the Korean Peninsula, since Trump was arrogant to say that “maximum sanctions against DPRK and pressure on it must be maintained at all cost!” Yet, during his stay in Beijing, Kim stressed that he was committed to denuclearization and confirmed that he was willing to attend a summit with the United States. Consider all these, China is expected to use all means to enhance the comprehensive strategic partnership with Russia, to strengthen mutual cooperation with S. Korea and to further persuade N. Korea to go forward to the meeting with ROK President Moon Jae-in scheduled for April, and the planned face-to-face talks with US President Donald Trump penciled in to take place by the end of May. If all these meetings go well, the Korean Olympic spirit would be turned into a political reality.
About the author:
*Wang Li is Professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China.
This article was published by Modern Diplomacy.