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North Korea

Parade in Pyongyang sends positive signal over talks with North

The absence of long-range missiles capable of hitting US cities and the call by China to Kim Jong-un on denuclearisation raise hopes for future summits

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 9:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 10:20pm

Observers scrutinise North Korea’s military parades for evidence of hardware capable of backing up bellicose rhetoric. Sunday’s celebrations in Pyongyang, to mark the country’s 70th anniversary celebrations, were watched more closely than most. They came three months after United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reached consensus on the goal of denuclearisation, during which there has been little progress.

But among the tanks, troops and short-range battlefield missiles rolled out for the parade, no long-range missiles capable of reaching American cities were to be seen. This was seen as a goodwill gesture. It also coincided with a direct call to Kim, personally delivered by President Xi Jinping’s right-hand man, to realise the consensus of denuclearisation with Trump. Li Zhanshu, third-ranking member of the top Communist Party leadership, stressed the need for North Korea and the US “to thoroughly implement the consensus … to reach the common goal of denuclearisation”.

If these two developments were calculated to send a positive signal to Washington, they were badly needed to restore the optimism sparked by the historic summit between Trump and Kim in Singapore. Trump has suggested Chinese interference in the process, and abruptly cancelled a visit to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. According to state media, Kim told Li the North wanted the US to reciprocate diplomatically Pyongyang’s steps towards denuclearisation, such as refraining from further nuclear or missile testing. His wish “to learn from the Chinese experience of economic development” reflects a need to make peace with the US and for a security guarantee in order to focus on the economy.

China presses Kim to realise Singapore consensus with Trump

Another summit later this month between Kim and the South Korean leader Moon Jae-in could be a significant step towards easing tensions on the peninsula. In this regard China’s role as North Korea’s closest ally and neighbour in securing and ensuring peace and stability is crucial. A showing of support at the highest level was to be expected, which raises the question as to why Xi did not attend the celebrations, when it was reported at one stage that he would.

With China committed to United Nations sanctions against North Korea that remain in place, and the US waging a trade war against China, the timing was not right. But the presence on the parade podium of Li, a trusted and influential ally of Xi, demonstrates China’s commitment to its neighbour’s future security and stability. Without a breakthrough on denuclearisation there is a risk of renewed tension and confrontation. Hopefully the Kim-Moon summit will keep the momentum going and set the stage for Kim and Trump to take it to another level.