North Korea expected to ask China for a break at summit

Analysts say visit to Beijing will likely involve an appeal to ease off on sanctions

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 May, 2017, 10:57pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 May, 2017, 11:27pm

North Korea is expected to press China to tone down its economic sanctions when its delegation ­attends an infrastructure and trade summit in Beijing on ­Sunday, observers said.

Talks between North Korean and Chinese officials on the sidelines of the “Belt and Road Initiative” forum would mainly focus on economic matters, but Beijing was likely to call on Pyongyang to stop its provocations in order for the sanctions to be relaxed, the analysts added.

China said on Tuesday that a North Korean delegation would attend the forum along with ­leaders from 28 other nations, ­surprising diplomatic observers.

Details about the North Korean delegation were not disclosed, but South Korean media reported that it would be led by Kim Yong-jae, the North’s minister of external economic relations.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have increased recently, with Pyongyang threatening more nuclear and missile tests, which would embarrass Beijing.

“Now is about the time to put pressure on North Korea to force them to give up nuclear weapons,” a South Korean diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

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Observers said nuclear and missile tests were unlikely to be the main agenda, but that the visit could improve relations between China and North Korea, who are embroiled in a war of words over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development and China’s banning of coal imports from the North.

“The security situation in Northeast Asia is increasingly intense. The visit of North Korean officials brings a new opportunity to cool the tensions and pave the way for possible bilateral or multilateral talks,” Zhang Tuosheng, a director at the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies, said. “China would not easily provide economic assistance to Pyongyang at the request of the North Korean delegation, and Beijing is likely to take this chance to ask North Korea to give up its nuclear development and missile launch plan.”

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Hwang Jae-ho, a regional security specialist at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, said that as the economic relations minister was not a member of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s inner circle, he was not expected to discuss sensitive issues with Chinese officials. But the visit would allow Kim Yong-jae to appeal to China to be less strict in enforcing sanctions, Hwang said.

Veerle Nouwens, an Asia analyst at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London, said the summit invitation was a goodwill gesture to get North Korea back into the international community.

“The forum could be an initiative by Beijing to encourage North Korea to rejoin the world. It has traditionally advocated economic aid in exchange for Pyongyang abandoning its nuclear and missile programmes,” he said.