No time for misjudgmentOn Monday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited China once again. As his fourth trip took place while Pyongyang and Washington are trying to fix a date and place for a second North Korea-U.S. summit, it could be aimed at coordinating their positions ahead of Kim’s second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. Kim’s three visits to China last year also occurred ahead of his summits with President Moon Jae-in and Trump. North Korea wants to raise its negotiation power by showing off its alliance with China. On China’s part, it has nothing to lose as it can use its North Korea leverage in the trade war with the United States.
But concerns are rising fast over the possibility of Kim and Xi misjudging the situation. In a New Year’s address, Kim sent a few meaningful messages, including a warning that he cannot but take a “new path” if Uncle Sam continues to impose sanctions and put pressure on North Korea. Security analysts interpreted that as a warning of Pyongyang’s willingness to return to nuclear or missile tests. If North Korea takes that path based on China’s support, that’s a big mistake.
Kim also expressed an intention to turn the current armistice into a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea wants to draw China to the negotiations for peace on the peninsula. If China can play a positive role in tune with the international community, there will be no problem. But if Pyongyang’s attempt to draw China is meant to ease international sanctions, that’s a big problem.
China should not use the North Korea card for other purposes. The Sino-U.S. trade war has entered a lull. If Beijing seeks to take advantage of that card at such a sensitive time, that’s not an attitude befitting a major country.
Trade volume between North Korea and China reportedly decreased by 53 percent in the first 11 months of last year. That could be a positive sign of Beijing aggressively taking part in the sanctions. But last year, a Chinese businessman was found to have smuggled seafood from North Korea, which suggests trade deals are still being made between the two countries behind the scenes. China must keep a close watch on that.
Seoul’s relations with Beijing do not show any sign of improvement since the controversy over the deployment of the Thaad missile defense system. Denuclearization cannot be achieved by only improving inter-Korean relations. It must enhance ties with China and Japan, which can also play an important role in developing the North Korean economy.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 9, Page 30