June 23, 2019
China’s Xi Jinping made a historic move this week with his two-day visit to Pyongyang to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Both are facing challenges of their own with US President Donald Trump, but they share a common interest in the resolution of those issues, and the two allies made sure America and the rest of the world hear their declarations of friendship and strong alliance.
From their face-to-face talks on Thursday and Friday — the first on North Korean soil between its leader and that of China’s in 14 years, although Kim had traveled to China and elsewhere a few times to meet Xi — the world watched with keen interest in seeing significant results.
First we must be aware that among the issues faced separately by North Korea and China, two stand out as most critical and urgent: the deadlock between North Korea and the United States in their nuclear negotiations after they failed to reach a deal during their February summit in Hanoi and the protracted trade war between China and the US.
We may not know exactly what transpired during the Kim-Xi meeting, as we can’t expect to be told the details by the reclusive Korean state what strategies it agreed with China to apply as they contend with the power America wields in the global arena.
But at least we learned from the North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) that Kim saw the Chinese President’s visit as an opportunity to demonstrate “the immutability and invincibility of the DPRK-China friendship before the world.”
The KCNA initially reported that Kim and Xi agreed to “promote close strategic communication” and develop their “common interests.” That was echoed on Saturday by Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of North Korea, which said in an editorial, “DPRK-China relationship is an invincible friendship that firmly combines military camaraderie and trust.”
The two countries obviously believe it is in their best interest to show the US and all other countries who have a stake in the US-China trade war and around the Korean Peninsula that China and North Korea will have a stronger clout when they band together.
North Korea also appeared to be keen to impress upon the outside world that its relationship with Beijing is strongly grounded on history as they both survived the Japanese rule, describing how the “sacred period of the anti-Japanese struggle has become the foundation of the DPRK-China friendship.”
The commentary in Rodong Sinmun comes shortly before the G20 summit takes place in Japan, where Trump will meet with China’s Xi, and on the first of the two-day Asean summit in Bangkok, where the US-China trade war will take the spotlight.
On the issue of the stalled Kim-Trump talks over denuclearization and peace in the Korean Peninsula, a positive result was reported by the Chinese CCTV, which quoted Kim as saying he was willing to be patient in the talks with the US, although he wanted the parties concerned to meet him halfway.
A closer look into China’s CCTV story as quoted by the Western news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP), shows that Xi gave Kim some encouragement by saying China “positively evaluated” the North’s efforts.
AFP, in its own interview, quoted Jeung Young-tae, director of the Institute of North Korean Studies in Seoul, as saying the just concluded meeting between Kim and Xi “amounted to China giving Kim strong backing in the process.”
As the “Big Brother” expressed support to Kim’s position in the negotiations with Trump and to stick to his demands, Xi’s words of encouragement seemed to have prodded the North Korean leader to consider opening up again to fresh negotiations with the US.
Hong Min, a senior researcher at the South’s state-run Korea Institute for National Unification, may be right when he said Xi’s support gave Kim a “political and diplomatic opening to resume talks with the US again.”
This time, when Kim renews his call for Washington to adopt a new method of calculation for the negotiations, the US might take that as a challenge to formulate a new, broader or innovative set of parameters for new talks to progress into a more feasible deal.
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