China’s President Xi Jinping is back in Beijing after two days of confabulations with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. “At the very least, he would have some talking points for Donald Trump when they meet at the G20 summit in Osaka next week,” says Vishnu Prakash, India’s former ambassador to South Korea.
Some South Korean analysts speculated that Xi could be looking to make a breakthrough in the trade war with the United States. He could be hoping to leverage his connect with the North Korean leader to show Trump China’s usefulness as a partner in resolving key regional issues including, perhaps, the nuclear one.
But Ambassador Prakash does not believe China has any interest in de-fanging North Korea of its nuclear weapons. China in fact backs the north’s “step by step” approach to the nuclear issue, which is completely at odds with Trump’s demand that the north agree to be de-nuclearised immediately.
He believes Xi’s intentions are more immediate. “Xi’s first visit to Pyongyang as president was to ensure China a seat at the negotiating table in any future international peace parleys on the Korean Peninsula.”
It hardly needs saying that China has no interest in peace on the Korean Peninsula. At least, no peace where it is not the chief conductor. Which is why Kim Jong-Un’s go-it-alone approach including and especially his two summits with Donald Trump, would have been deeply traumatic for Beijing.
The summits failed to achieve any breakthrough and with the U.S. and the West tightening sanctions, Xi and Kim had reason to close the door on the past and look ahead. Appropriately, the state run media in both countries rose to the occasion.
“Over more than a year, the North Korean side has taken many positive measures to avoid escalation … and manage and control the peninsular situation but it hasn’t received any response from the relevant party,” China’s CCTV quoted President Xi as telling Kim.
The North Korean party newspaper Rodong Sinmun rather dramatically referred to Xi’s visit as consolidating “the blood ties between the peoples of China and DPRK,” a reference to China’s military intervention in the 1950 war that helped the North Korean regime beat back UN forces led by the U.S. “Comrade Xi Jinping’s visit comes as pressing and significant tasks arise due to complicated international relations …,” the paper added.
More important, amid reports of food shortages in North Korea, the two sides are looking at economic development. China may be able to increase humanitarian aid and tourism to that country at a time when the sanctions regime is looking frayed. China and Russia have put a technical hold on further sanctions on the north at the UN Security Council.
What about India? Prakash says India has no leverage on the Korean Peninsula. Its goals are limited to ensuring there is no resumption of the nuclear blackmarket that brought together Pakistan, North Korea and China in the 1980s and early 1990s.
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