North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Monday began his fourth visit to China since last year. This is also his first foreign trip in 2019. What’s the implication of this visit? How will it influence the stalemate on Washington-Pyongyang relations? Global Times sought the opinion of three experts on these issues.
Zheng Jiyong, director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai
The situation on the Korean Peninsula is complicated and the motivation for denuclearization is quite weak. China plays a decisive role in negotiations with the countries involved in the issue, namely the US, South Korea and North Korea. Without China’s participation, it would be difficult to secure a breakthrough on the Peninsula situation. Therefore, it is important for Pyongyang to know what Beijing is thinking.
Last year, Kim announced that the country would shift its focus to develop the economy, but it didn’t achieve much in terms of economic development. The expectations of North Korean people and other leaders on denuclearization haven’t been met amid a rapidly changing situation.
As sanctions against the country remain, Pyongyang has encountered difficulties in development. Kim is concerned about boosting development if sanctions are lifted after denuclearization. He has attached importance to self-reliance and improving people’s livelihood.
Such being the case, during his visit to China, Kim will remember to learn from China’s development experience and solutions to problems and take them back to North Korea, especially at a time when his country intends to open its doors and seek new paths to progress.
It is crucial to have peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula if Pyongyang wants to achieve its goal of development. Beijing should and will play a more active and decisive role. China’s active participation will inject new impetus to promote denuclearization. It means China will have to take on more responsibility, having more opportunities to hold substantive negotiations with other three countries.
Kim came to China three times last year and his first visit to a foreign country in 2019 is to China. It shows that China-North Korea traditional friendship is always there and that Pyongyang places a high level of trust in Beijing. His multiple visits also triggered discussion among Chinese people who now have a better impression of him.
Analysts said 2019 may be as significant to North Korea as 1979 for China. Indeed, this year is crucial for North Korea in which Pyongyang will constantly focus on people’s livelihood and make choices on the future paths for economic and strategic development.
Robert A. Manning, a senior fellow of the Brent Scowcroft Center for International Security at the Atlantic Council
Kim’s fourth meeting with Xi Jinping in seven months is almost certainly an effort to coordinate policies in preparation for the second Trump-Kim Summit. Nuclear diplomacy has been stuck for months as North Korea has refused to meet senior US officials, opposing what Pyongyang views as an inflexible US stance of refusing to ease UN sanctions until after Pyongyang abandons its nuclear weapons program.
Some US analysts fear that Kim views Trump as a soft target and seeks a deal to do away with US presence from South Korea as the price for denuclearization.
If there is a breakthrough it would likely come at the expense of the US-South Korea alliance. It is difficult to envision a process leading to a peace treaty or denuclearization absent US cooperation with China and the two Koreas.
Yang Xiyu, senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing
This is the fourth time Kim has visited China in less than a year, signaling that China-North Korea relations have reached new heights.
Kim’s three previous visits to China last year were all in advance of North Korea’s major upcoming diplomatic moves. This one is no exception. In particular, the Kim-Xi meet this time comes right after Kim’s remarkable New Year’s Address of 2019, which undoubtedly suggests that the two sides will further interact and communicate to enhance mutual trust.
After the 2018 North Korea-US summit, ties have been stalemated, and South-North Korean communication has also stagnated. At this uncertain crossroads, Kim’s New Year Address, along with his letters to US President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in clearly indicates that North Korea will keep going the way it did last year.
The 2019 North Korea-US summit as well as the Inter-Korean summit will have profound impact on the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Kim’s visit prior to these two summits reveals China’s unique and pivotal role in Korean issues and the close cooperation between the countries.
China is a constructive diplomatic mediator on Korea issues. No matter how precarious and complicated the situation in the last 20 years, China has always helped resolve it through diplomatic channels and helped maintain peace on the Peninsula.
China is also an initiator and promoter of essential proposals. For instance, it was China that contributed greatly to the critical Joint Statement on September 19, 2005. In the current situation, China has proposed to resolve the two core issues – denuclearization and peace – with the help of two-track negotiations. We can see that the Peninsula is now well on track in this direction.
With the ups and downs on the Korean Peninsula over the past two decades, all relevant parties’ policies on the Korean issue have undergone drastic changes except China’s. It is based on the firmness, stability and sustainability of China’s policies that China has played a particularly prominent role.
As can be seen from the previous cases, Kim’s China visit this time will definitely help break the stalemate in US-North Korean ties, and the Kim-Xi meet is particularly important to ensure the success of the two summits after Kim’s visit.
Moreover, Kim’s visit is also aimed at communicating and coordination on the socialist development path with China. During the third Plenary Meeting of the seventh WPK Central Committee in April 2018, Kim declared that the new strategic line of the Party would be to concentrate all efforts on socialist economic development. His New Year Address of 2019 then proposed to find new ways of developing socialism. The equal and candid exchanges by both sides on the path of socialism will be conducive to North Korea’s socialist development.