Obama and Xi in chorusIn their first summit, U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping hammered out an agreement on the North Korean nuclear issue. In the two-day informal meeting in California, both leaders delivered a stern message to Pyongyang by declaring that they would not accept the North’s possession of nuclear weapons. Pyongyang must give up its nuclear ambitions, and Washington and Beijing will closely cooperate to achieve denuclearization of North Korea.
In a press briefing after the summit, the United States said both leaders reached a considerable level of consensus on the nuclear issue, while China explained that both presidents share the same position. The proclamation of zero tolerance for the North’s nuclear armament in chorus by the two superpowers heralds a remarkable shift in the rules of the game over the nuclear conundrum.
Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, said the two leaders’ consensus would lead to reinforced cooperation between Washington and Beijing. That suggests North Korean issues hold a pivotal role in the renewed Sino-U.S. relationship based on mutual cooperation and constructive competition. His remarks translate into a stern warning to Pyongyang: It could face a fatal end if it continues to fiddle with nuclear cards blinded by its traditional ties with Beijing.
The question is how the two leaders’ cooperative plans will be put into action. North Korea has declared its status as a nuclear state in its Constitution and said it would not return to negotiations over denuclearization - except for arms reduction talks. The North also vowed to pursue nuclear weapons and economic development at the same time. The first step will be determining how to draw the recalcitrant regime to the negotiating table.
Washington will not have talks with Pyongyang before it demonstrates sincerity through action. Therefore, China should play a crucial role in persuading the North to demonstrate genuineness by sending an emissary to Pyongyang to explain the meaning of the Sunnylands summit and deliver a clear warning. The U.S. should also do its part by providing rewards to the North when it comes back to negotiations.
Following the Seoul-Washington summit and the Washington-Beijing summit, a Seoul-Beijing summit will be held on June 27. North Korea must take notice of the trilateral cooperation. Denuclearization is not a choice but the only way for the North to survive. Pyongyang must not forget that President Xi has a very different approach on the nuclear issue.