North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Chinese President Xi Jinping met with each other in China from March 25 to 28. The sudden summit is a result of the two countries’ coinciding interests.
Pyongyang has to face U.S. military action if its negotiations with hardliners in Washington do not work out well. In other words, Pyongyang seems to have determined that it should have some insurance against their strong demand for denuclearization and remind them of the presence of the strong ally to be prepared against U.S. military action that can be taken when its summit with the U.S. scheduled for May does not end well.
China, in the meantime, needed to highlight its presence with things surrounding the Korean Peninsula currently revolving around Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington. In addition, North Korea can be another means for deterring U.S. President Donald Trump from imposing more tariffs on the country.
Under the circumstances, much attention is being paid to the future of inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea relations. US National Security Adviser John Bolton, one of the hardliners, is demanding denuclearization without delay. Kim Jong-un, meanwhile, insists on a phased approach without mentioning any specific plan. During his summit with the Chinese President, Kim Jong-un said that the denuclearization issue can be resolved if South Korea and the U.S. take phased and simultaneous measures for peace.
This remark of Kim implies that he changed his mind at least outwardly and decided to accept China’s claims for simultaneous progress of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and peace negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang and simultaneous suspension of North Korea’s provocations and South Korea-U.S. joint military drills. These claims constitute the best-case scenario for Beijing rather than Seoul and Pyongyang. In this scenario, North Korea would be under the nuclear umbrella of China once North Korea gives up on nuclear weapons in response to its proposal and, in addition, South Korea is also under its influence once the U.S. army in South Korea withdraws in return for peace negotiations that can follow the denuclearization.
Furthermore, China could use the issue of North Korea denuclearization as leverage against the United States, attempting to rule out the influence of the United States on the Korean Peninsula in the process of resolution of the nuclear issue and regard the ICBM development by North Korea as an effective tool for its strategic goal.
Although Washington, that is demanding North Korea’s denuclearization without delay, clarified that it would have only bilateral negotiations without multilateral ones. However, if the U.S.-North Korea summit yields no satisfactory outcome and tension mounts again, China naturally would come in as a broker to form a multilateral framework, loosening pressure and sanctions against the North. Consequently, the recent summit between the Chinese and North Korean leaders implies a significant difficulty on the part of the U.S., which is in a trade war against China with its summit with the North around the corner.
If China prepares an emergency exit for the North again, there may be no necessity for any summit meeting between the two Koreas or that between the U.S. and the North. The South Korean government needs to pay heed to this point in preparing for the upcoming summit meeting by keeping a consistent and same voice and stance with the U.S. If the Moon Jae-in government mishandles the critical issue related to the Korean Peninsular’s future, it would leave just two options; acceptance of North Korea’s nuclear armament or military action by the U.S. The government should keep in mind that only key to solve Pyongyang’s denuclearization is to strengthen the ally with the U.S.