North Korea

Kim Jong-un tries to mend fences with China ahead of Donald Trump meeting with pledge to deepen cooperation with Beijing

Long-standing allies reaffirm commitment to each other as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visits North Korea

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 May, 2018, 9:21pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 May, 2018, 1:06pm

North Korea has vowed to deepen its strategic relations with China as the two allies sought to mend fences ahead of an unprecedented meeting between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump.

In a meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday, Kim reaffirmed that a strong relationship with China was “a firm strategy” for the North, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement. In turn, Beijing pledged to provide economic support to Pyongyang.

“North Korea is willing to work together with China to push forward the friendly relations between North Korea and China to a new high stage,” Kim told Wang during their meeting at the headquarters of the Worker’s Party.

The meeting was Kim’s second one with high-ranking Chinese officials since his visit to Beijing in late March.

It also came days after his historic summit with South Korean president Moon Jae-in last Friday, when the two leaders agreed to work to officially end the 1950-53 Korean war and work for the “complete denuclearisation” of the peninsula.

“China supports and commends the successful meeting between leaders of the North and the South,” Wang told Kim, adding that it presented a “positive opportunity” for a political settlement.

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Meanwhile, Kim heaped praise on China’s efforts to maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, and said that North Korea would like to enhance strategic communications with China.

The visit by Wang, the first of its kind by a Chinese foreign minister since 2007, came at a time when Beijing and Pyongyang are seeking to repair relations that were frayed by Kim’s repeated nuclear tests and Beijing’s support for a series of stringent UN sanctions.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have quickly eased since the beginning of the year.

Days before meeting with Moon last Friday, Kim announced he would suspend North Korea’s nuclear programme and focus its resources on rebuilding its economy, although many observers remain sceptical about whether he will fulfil these commitments.

There has been growing speculation about whether Beijing – Pyongyang’s main ally and patron for more than seven decades – would be left out of the ongoing peace negotiations involving the two Koreas and the US. 

But Sun Xingjie, a Korean affairs expert at Jilin University, said that Wang’s visit to Pyongyang had reinforced Beijing’s importance amid the fast-changing dynamics on the Korean Peninsula.

“Wang’s visit reaffirmed that Beijing is not being sidelined,” he said.

China ‘supports North Korean shift from nuclear to economy’

In a move to strengthen North Korea’s dependence on China, which accounts for more than 90 per cent of North Korea’s total trade volume, Wang also told his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong-ho that the two sides should “push forward practical cooperation on the economy and trade.”

Wang added: “The traditional friendship between China and North Korea is the mutual good fortune of the two sides. It is a strategic choice to inherit and develop the tradition of friendly relations.”

Lu Chao, a Korean affairs expert at Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said China’s support for economic development in North Korea was in response to Kim’s pledge to give up nuclear weapons and shift to economic development.

“This is not contradicting UN sanctions, because the support, as well as the recent improvement in the bilateral relations between China and North Korea, only came on the condition that North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear weapon programme and move to develop its economy,” Lu said.

“So far, the bans remain effective and China will follow the sanctions.”