Chinese President Xi Jinping has backed efforts to ease tensions in the Korean peninsula, but also said that North Korea’s security concerns should be addressed.
In his widely watched meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang yesterday, President Xi also made it clear that China intended to be part of the equation in resolving issues in the peninsula.
Both countries have had run-ins with the United States this year – China over trade and North Korea over stalled denuclearisation talks. Mr Xi’s visit to Pyongyang – before he meets US President Donald Trump at the Group of 20 Summit in Japan next week – served to underline Beijing’s close ties with North Korea, observers said.
Mr Xi told Mr Kim that he hopes the issue of denuclearising the peninsula will be resolved through dialogue and that Beijing wants to play a constructive role in the process.
At the same time, he said, any resolution should help North Korea meet its “reasonable security and development concerns”, indicating that Beijing wants the US to accept North Korean demands for a security guarantee while easing economic sanctions.
Mr Kim said North Korea had “taken multiple positive steps” over the past year to reduce tensions on the peninsula, but this “had not elicited a positive response from relevant parties”.
Talks between Mr Trump and Mr Kim started promisingly in Singapore last year but ended in mutual recriminations the last time the two men met in Hanoi to discuss the mechanics of North Korea giving up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for security guarantees and an end to crippling economic sanctions.
As Mr Xi arrived to a 21-gun salute, with 250,000 North Koreans lining the streets, observers said there would have to be intense discussions behind the ebullient optics to break the deadlocked nuclear talks.
Renmin University’s North Korea expert Cheng Xiaohe said Mr Xi and Mr Kim would likely work to reach a joint position on a provisional deal, which could then be presented to Mr Trump in Japan. “Whatever Xi brings to Trump at the G-20, it would not just be North Korea’s position, but would also include China’s input.”
South Korean experts were more sceptical of any breakthrough, with Dr Lee Seong-hyon of the Sejong Institute think-tank noting that the visit could be seen as a diversionary tactic and leverage in the lead-up to Mr Xi’s meeting with Mr Trump.
“And the visit was initiated by Xi, who has been hit due to the trade war, the Hong Kong demonstrations and America’s virtual ‘recognition’ of Taiwan as a state,” he said.
Asan Institute for Policy Studies Senior Fellow Shin Beom-chul said China will try to maintain its balance as both an international leader and friend of North Korea.
“On the one hand, President Xi will focus on the restart of dialogue between North Korea and the US,” said Dr Shin. “On the other hand, China will broadly support North Korea’s political position and demand for a security guarantee, threat reduction, and the necessity of lifting sanctions.”
Meanwhile, South Korea, which plays a mediating role in US-North Korea talks, is still pushing for a fourth summit with the North in a bid to break the nuclear impasse, as Mr Trump is scheduled to visit Seoul right after the G-20 summit.
Vice-Unification Minister Suh Ho told Yonhap news agency on Monday that Seoul needs to find a “wise solution” to resume inter-Korean economic projects such as the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tours.
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