Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) received North Korean leader Kim Jong-un recently in Beijing — the first meeting between the leaders. The two agreed that China would assist with the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsular and Pyongyang highlighted the historical ties forged in blood between China and North Korea.
At the same time, Washington claimed the meeting vindicated its approach to North Korea, while Japan expressed concern about being left out in the regional geopolitical cold.
Discussions have begun about a possible meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in May, but no mention of this has yet been made in North Korean media.
However, the White House has repeatedly said a Trump-Kim meeting will not take place unless Pyongyang takes action to eliminate its nuclear weapons program and U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis canceled a scheduled visit to Beijing to discuss security in Northeast Asia in late March. It seems likely then that Washington and Pyongyang remain at odds over the strategic objective of such a meeting.
By taking advantage of the conflict of interests between the interested parties, North Korea has been able to develop its own nuclear program. Although its weapons are aimed at the U.S., South Korea and Japan are likely to bear the brunt of any nuclear conflict due to their geographical proximity. At the same time, China is also under increasing pressure because North Korea has built nuclear missile facilities just across the border.
As no country in Northeast Asia wants to see a unified Korea, Kim insists on retaining nuclear weapons as a security guarantee for himself and the survival of his regime. It also serves as a bargaining chip in Pyongyang’s relations with other countries.
Now that Trump sees China as a strategic “competitor,” Beijing has concluded that Washington is seeking to contain China through a military alliance with South Korea and Japan. This also involves taking advantage of the crisis surrounding Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons to serve Washington’s strategic interests in Northeast Asia.
Global media remain skeptical about whether a Trump-Kim summit will lead to the end of Pyongyang’s nuclear program, because the two sides have vastly divergent objectives. Trump wants Pyongyang to eliminate its nuclear weapons, while Kim wants Washington to withdraw its troops from Northeast Asia, establish diplomatic ties with Pyongyang and assure the security of the North Korean regime.
The Xi-Kim summit in Beijing prior to Kim’s proposed meeting with Trump has enabled North Korea and China to develop a mutual understanding and Pyongyang to gain security promises from China, which will give Kim an advantage when he meets with Trump.
On the other hand, the summit has allowed Xi to interject himself into the upcoming meeting between Trump and Kim, demonstrating China’s leadership role in Northeast Asia to the rest of the world.
The Xi-Kim summit has again highlighted the bond between China and North Korea, while also showcasing the rise of China as a major power on the world stage. (Editorial abstract — March 30, 2018)
(By Flor Wang)