Mystery in BeijingA top North Korean reportedly traveled to China for more important meetings on Monday. Considering that he — or she — rode on a special train used by former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for the trip to China and that Beijing offered courteous treatment, the mysterious North Korean pilgrim could be Kim Jong-un, chairman of the Workers’ Party, or his sister Kim Yo-jong. Whoever it may be, the meeting carries great significance as it could herald the beginning of a thaw between North Korea and China after seven years of frozen ties since Kim and Xi took office.
We should pay close attention to the developments as they could affect the Korean Peninsula and any chance of the denuclearization of North Korea. Whatever meetings were held are obviously meant to prepare for an upcoming inter-Korean summit in April and another one between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump later. We don’t have to worry about such meetings as they could be a positive sign of improved relations between Pyongyang and Beijing. Given the myriad of uncertainties over the North Korean nuclear problem, however, our government must brace for all possibilities.
First of all, Sino-North meetings must not serve as a chance for Beijing to help ease international sanctions on the rogue state. Instead, the meetings should help dissuade Kim from developing nuclear weapons. North Korea’s recent charm offensives owe much to China’s relatively active participation in international sanctions and the Trump administration’s hard-line stance toward Pyongyang. In such a tough environment, North Korea needs to bring China to its side. China also is worried as Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington skipped Beijing and took initiatives over the fate of the peninsula.
China is increasingly worried that it could be left out. Beijing has underscored the need for it to have a role. But China’s embracing of North Korea once again could lead to a loosening of sanctions. As China did not ease sanctions on North Korea, Kim Jong-un refused to meet Xi’s special envoy Song Tao — head of the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China — when he visited Pyongyang last November.
Some diplomatic experts think that the events in Beijing could reflect both countries’ common interests. Our government must be thoroughly prepared for improved ties between Pyongyang and Beijing. At the same time, the government must not provoke China. It must take into account all parties involved — including Russia and Japan — to improve relations with North Korea.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 28, Page 30