The May 25-28 unofficial visit of Kim Jong-un, leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, to China on the invitation President Xi Jinping will not only strengthen relations between Beijing and Pyongyang but also greatly ease the tensions on the Korean Peninsula and the region beyond.
While giving the lie to speculations that Beijing-Pyongyang ties had somewhat soured, Kim’s visit to China created a more favorable situation for his scheduled talks with Republic of Korea President Moon Jae-in on April 27, and his planned meeting with US President Donald Trump in May as part of the process to denuclearize the peninsula. In fact, the date for the DPRK-ROK summit was announced after Kim’s visit to China.
During Kim’s visit to China, the two sides discussed the denuclearization issue as well as bilateral issues. Beijing has been making consistent efforts to mediate among Pyongyang, Washington and Seoul, and Kim said at his meeting with Xi that the DPRK would strive for denuclearization if the ROK and the United States took sincere steps to ease tensions and allay Pyongyang’s fears.
China has been reiterating its “dual suspension” proposal — the DPRK suspending its nuclear and missile tests in exchange for US and the ROK suspending their large-scale joint military drills — in order to create a favorable atmosphere for the denuclearization talks. Also, compared with its relations with China, the DPRK’s ties with the ROK are less likely to remain the same in case of a leadership change in Seoul. Pyongyang-Seoul relations were rather good between 2000 and 2007, but began deteriorating after that because of a change in the leadership in Seoul.
Besides, since the longtime tension between Pyongyang and Washington cannot be defused overnight, all countries concerned, China included, should make efforts to ensure the Kim-Trump meeting takes place in May. Contrary to what some Western observers say, a DPRK-US summit cannot damage Pyongyang’s relations with Beijing, not least because the two countries are interdependent neighbors.
China’s trade with the DPRK, which accounts for about 80 percent of the latter’s total, has reduced as a result of the United Nations sanctions on Pyongyang for “upgrading” its nuclear and missile program. But China-DPRK trade will likely expand because Pyongyang is focusing on economic development and is sincere about resolving the peninsula issue through peaceful means. And a peaceful peninsula will not only better safeguard China’s national security but also help create more favorable conditions for China’s economic growth despite the US’ protectionist moves and military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.
If the sound momentum for peace talks and cooperation on the peninsula is maintained, the DPRK could even return to the Six-Party Talks. Although no talks have been held under the framework since 2013, the joint statement issued after the fourth round of the Six-Party Talks on Sept 19, 2005, has built a concrete foundation for future negotiations on the peninsula issue.
Moreover, the return of normalcy on the peninsula will also allow Pyongyang and Seoul, which desperately want peace, to better focus on economic development, including resuming cooperation in industrial and tourism projects in the DPRK, especially the Mount Kumgang Tourist region.
The sanctions imposed by the US and the UN have thwarted many a DPRK effort to improve its economy. But if Pyongyang’s talks with Seoul and Washington are fruitful, the door to the DPRK’s economic development may open, starting with the agriculture sector and extending to economic co-development with the ROK and China.
China welcomes the DPRK’s decision to hold talks with the ROK, the US or any other country to bring permanent peace and prosperity to the peninsula. Moreover, Beijing and Pyongyang have agreed to strengthen their friendship, enhance communication and deepen cooperation to jointly build a prosperous Northeast Asia.
The author is an associate researcher at the Northeast Asia Studies Center, Jilin Academy of Social Sciences.