North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, made a surprise visit to Beijing to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping. We can probably take this as a sign that the major diplomatic game of bargaining over the Korean Peninsula has begun.
It was the first time since Kim took power over six years ago for him to travel outside his country, and his first meeting with Xi. Both leaders are said to have agreed to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Concrete details of the talks, however, have yet to emerge. If North Korea were to unilaterally drive up its conditions for denuclearization, or maintain its threat against surrounding countries, there would be no point in the meeting. We must carefully assess this factor.
With the summit, relations between China and North Korea, which had chilled, have started to recover. There is significance in having a functioning pipeline between China and North Korea, including for the purpose of conveying to the North the will of international society, which opposes the development of nuclear weapons.
It is believed that Kim visited China to increase his own bargaining power ahead of summits next month or later with the United States and South Korea.
By agreeing on the principle of denuclearization in advance, North Korea can expect that it can obtain the backing of China. There is probably also significance for the North in solidifying relations with China as insurance, so that even if talks between Washington and Pyongyang fail, it will not give the United States a pretext for military intervention.
There is additional merit in the move from the perspective of China being able to maintain influence in issues involving the Korean Peninsula. Relations between the two countries have repeatedly seesawed in the past. While the “blood pledge” between China and North Korea, who combined forces in the Korean War, may have weakened, their relationship marked by a shared interest in facing off against Japan, the United States and South Korea remains unchanged.
Kim’s father Kim Jong Il held summits with China and Russia following an inter-Korean summit in 2000. He also sought to hold a summit between Pyongyang and Washington, though this never materialized.
The current state of affairs, following the progress in North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles, is more serious than before.
Kim will probably try to achieve a turnabout in the situation during talks with U.S. President Donald Trump. But half-baked compromises cannot be allowed. It is necessary to maintain pressure until North Korea actually moves ahead toward denuclearization. China must not ease up on sanctions without waiting for Pyongyang to take this move.
While holding off from condemning the United States and South Korea, North Korea has continued to criticize Japan. We must not fall for this blatant policy of separation. The diplomatic ability of Japan to respond to sudden developments is being put to the test.