Kim Jong-un’s second meeting with Xi Jinping shows China is key to denuclearising North Korea, US analysts say
China might stay out of earlier negotiations, but will be needed to close any deal on peace for the Korean peninsula
Tuesday’s surprise second meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Chinese President Xi Jinping – which came ahead of Kim’s talks with US President Donald Trump – underscores how significant a role China will play in any negotiations to denuclearise North Korea, US analysts said.
These analysts believe that such negotiations might result in a “permanent, solid peace” on the Korean peninsula.
On Tuesday, Xi met with Kim in Dalian, a coastal city in northeast China’s Liaoning Province that borders North Korea. In March, the two leaders met in Beijing – Kim’s first trip as North Korea’s leader out of the country – before Kim took part in historic summit talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
On Tuesday, Xi praised “positive progress” on both China-North Korea relations and the evolving Korean Peninsula situation, telling Chinese state media: “I feel happy about it.”
April’s talk between the two Koreas seems to have opened a season of meetings that might result in the disarmament of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, US analysts said.
Victor Cha, a former director for Asian affairs of the National Security Council (NSC) under President George W. Bush, told the South China Morning Post that the meetings between Kim and Moon could lead to “a whole bunch of summits happening” – including the planned US-North Korea talks, a possible trilateral meeting involving the US and both Koreas, and even one between Russia and North Korea.
“Multiple summits means they are talking,” said Joseph Yun, a former special representative for North Korea policy at the State Department who led the US’s direct diplomatic engagements with Pyongyang before retiring in February.
Yun said that such meetings were a “good development” towards the negotiations of a denuclearisation process, compared to the preventive military strike on North Korea that the White House was reportedly considering earlier this year.
“We do not want to go back” to a military option, Yun said.
Trump said on Twitter on Tuesday morning that “relationships and trust are building” on North Korean issues.
Later on Tuesday, after he spoke with Xi by telephone, the White House reported that “President Trump and President Xi agreed on the importance of continued implementation of sanctions on North Korea until it permanently dismantles its nuclear and missile programs.”
The US analysts agreed that China, the North’s main trading partner, might be sidelined in any bilateral talks between the two Koreas and also between the US and North Korea but that it must be a party to any round of detailed negotiations on disarming the North’s nuclear weapons.
“If we ever get to [talks of] denuclearisation, then the Chinese will need to play a role there,” Cha told the Post.
He said that China was already playing an important role as a backer of North Korea now that Pyongyang was heading into summits and negotiations: “Kim went to Beijing in a hope that China would support North Korea.”
Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, agreed that China’s involvement would be needed in any detailed discussions about denuclearisation.
Moreover, Green said, China would regard any progress toward peace on the Korean peninsula as a strategic plus, since such progress would weaken the military alliances among the US, South Korea and Japan.
China’s role would grow more important, he said, but the US didn’t believe that China is essential to any deal with North Korea. “The Trump administration thinks they have enough leverage,” Green said.
Regarding the possibility of trilateral meetings among the US and the two Koreas, Derek Grossman, a senior defence analyst at the Rand Corporation, told the Post that any such meetings would help force the US and South Korea to agree on how to negotiate North Korea’s denuclearisation.
“I remain unconvinced that both Moon and Trump are on the same page with their respective prioritisations of denuclearisation,” Grossman said.
Moon is scheduled to visit the US on May 22 to meet Trump at the White House ahead of the planned Trump-Kim summit. On Friday and again on Tuesday, Trump told reporters that a date and location for those talks had been scheduled, but no official announcement has been made.
Trump also announced on Tuesday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was headed to Pyongyang to help prepare the summit meeting between Trump and Kim.
According to a State Department transcript of comments Pompeo made to reporters aboard his plane, he was hoping to solidify the summit agenda and to lay out a “set of conditions” of the denuclearisation negotiation between the US and North Korea.