North Korea

North Korea's willingness to talk is welcome

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 May, 2013, 5:21am

Reading the mind of the secretive North Korean regime usually involves putting two and two together. The latest attempt to do so links a special envoy's visit to Beijing with the upcoming Sino-US summit, at which the threat to regional stability of the north's nuclear and missile activities is bound to figure prominently. Pyongyang gave unusually high-profile treatment to the visit to Beijing by Vice-Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, a senior member of the ruling Workers' Party, releasing photographs of his send-off. Again, putting two and two together, this suggests expectations that his talks with Chinese leaders would have significant results that address Beijing's concerns about tensions on the Korean peninsula.

That seems to be the case, with Chinese state media reporting last night that Choe told senior leader Liu Yunshan , the fifth-ranked member of the Politburo Standing Committee, that North Korea was willing to take China's advice to begin talks to resolve tensions.

North Korea has some serious fence-mending to do with its main ally, amid signs Beijing has lost patience with its bellicose defiance of international opinion. Relations have come under growing strain since China joined the US and other nations in imposing UN sanctions on North Korea after a nuclear test in February. The Bank of China recently closed the accounts of the North Korean Foreign Trade Bank over links with the nuclear weapons programme.

The severing of the banking relationship followed a visit to Beijing by new American Secretary of State John Kerry, when Premier Li Keqiang said provocations on the Korean peninsula would harm everyone's interests. It remains to be seen whether Beijing's move against the bank will be more effective than Washington's against Macau's Banco Delta Asia in 2005, over alleged North Korean money laundering. The US eventually unfroze the north's funds to get it back to the stalled six-party talks on denuclearisation, but Pyongyang walked out on them.

For the sake of his people, Kim must keep his vow to focus on economic development. But he first needs to return to dialogue to ease tension. China appears to have delivered on its part of an agreement with the US to make a joint effort to get Pyongyang back to the negotiating table. We trust the US will keep its side of the bargain by helping to create a favourable climate for progress through patient diplomacy.