China Holds Another Talk with North Korea
On Thursday, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi returned to Beijing from Pyongyang after participating in bilateral talks with North Korea’s counterpart Ri Yong and Kim Jong-un that lasted for two days. This meeting comes after Kim and South Korea’s leader, Moon Jae-in, signed the Panmunjom Declaration, setting a base for to end the 67-year war and denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Wang stated that China would support North Korea’s efforts in rebuilding its economy and its commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. He also congratulated the successful meeting between Kim and Moon and expressed support for the inter-Korean relations.
After meeting with North Korea’s Foreign Minister, Wang met Kim at the headquarters of Workers’ Party of Korea. People’s Daily, China’s state newspaper, wrote that China’s President Xi Jinping extended greetings to Kim, through Wang.
China has been one of the closest allies of North Korea since the founding of the country. Joint talks were often held in Beijing during Kim Il-sung’s term and his predecessor Kim Jong-il’s term.
Yet, upon designation, Kim Jong-un executed two North Korean senior officials who were close to Beijing, restricting communications and friendship between North Korea and China.
In late March, Kim made a visit to China to meet China’s President Xi Jinping, the first time Kim as North Korea’s leader set foot on a foreign soil and met face to face with his counterpart.
Experts on the relations between North Korea and China speculated that Kim sought advice from Xi Jinping ahead of the Panmunjom Declaration and the possible future talks with President Trump. After the peace talks in Panmunjom, however, many see the possibility of China’s losing its role as a close reliance for North Korea.
For China, there are reasons to worry.
The Panmunjom Declaration specified future dates for joint talks as well as specific steps towards denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but many of the planned talks were described as trilateral, not quadrilateral. Trilateral implies the inclusion of North Korea, South Korea, and the US, but quadrilateral includes the previous three, in addition to China. Therefore, China has a risk of being sidelined in the process of peace on the Korean peninsula.
While government officials and journalists from South Korea and the US were invited to investigate the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, China was excluded from this specific provision.
Experts claim the Chinese government fears that North Korea is getting closer to the US. Zhao Tong, a fellow in Carnegie’s Nuclear Policy Program, argued that Beijing is considering the possibility of the US agreeing to put aside its pursuit to denuclearize the peninsula if North Korea’s nuclear program still contains China.
China is therefore working to strengthen its ties with North Korea. According to Tong, China may extend its hand towards North Korea on economic assistance, such as connecting roads and rail networks, and including North Korea on its the Belt and Road Initiative, which is China’s plan to expand building of infrastructure across Asia and Africa.
Xi Jinping’s visit is planned to take part after the meeting between Kim and Trump. Wang’s other purpose for visiting Pyongyang was to prepare for the talks between Kim and Xi.
An article in the editorial section of China’s state-run journal, Global Times, wrote that a suggestion that China was being marginalized “is a shallow attempt to manipulate public opinion.” It further commented that Seoul “for its own political purposes, created much hype about the inter-Korean summit. US President Donald Trump has started claiming credit for the Kim-Trump summit before it even starts.”
The Korean Armistice Agreement on 1953 that led to a ceasefire on the Korean peninsula was signed by military commanders from China and North Korea on one side, and by U.S.-led United Nations Command, US Lieutenant General William K. Harrison, on behalf of the international community. South Korea was not a signatory and cannot end the war alone with North Korea.