China may take bigger role as ‘guarantor and mediator’ after Trump-Kim nuclear talks
Beijing will help both sides keep their promises on expected ‘symbolic deals’ made in Singapore, according to Chinese analysts
Beijing is expected to take a bigger role in Korean peninsula negotiations after US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meet on Tuesday – helping the two sides to push forward any deals they make.
The role would be as a “guarantor”, Chinese analysts say, not just of progress on the denuclearisation Washington is seeking, but also to ensure what Kim wants most: the safety of his regime.
Reflecting the stakes in play in the negotiations, a leading US politician has called for lawmakers there to endorse the use of military force against North Korea as a precautionary measure in case the Singapore summit fails to reach a diplomatic agreement of some kind.
Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told ABC News on Sunday, that “Donald Trump is not going to capitulate, so there’s really only two options – peace or war.”
The latest indication of Beijing’s influence over Pyongyang came on Sunday, when Kim arrived in Singapore for the summit not aboard the North Korea Air Force Un, as it is known – a Soviet-made Ilyushin Il-62M jet – but on an Air China Boeing 747 sometimes used to transport Chinese leaders.
Kim’s flight path meanwhile appeared to maximise time spent in Chinese airspace during the journey, including veering off to pass over the southernmost province Hainan Island, according to Flight Radar 24, a Swedish website providing real-time data.
A source told the South China Morning Post earlier that China could send fighter jets to escort Kim on the journey through its airspace.
Although there are geopolitical and security interests at stake for China in the negotiations, Beijing has refrained from direct involvement in the summit between Trump and Kim.
China has repeatedly said that the root of the nuclear crisis needs to be dealt with by Pyongyang and Washington and that a summit between the two sides could be a “key step” to resolving the situation.
“Beijing knows that it has limited influence over both the US and North Korea when it comes to denuclearisation,” said Zhao Tong, a North Korea specialist at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre in Beijing.
“So at the moment, the wisest approach for China is to just leave North Korea and the US to it.”
But Chinese analysts agreed that Beijing could and would play a larger role following the summit between Kim and Trump, who – given their divergent views on denuclearisation – are expected to make some “symbolic deals” when they meet.
Those deals could include an agreement to keep talking, with a commitment to work towards a final goal of dismantling all nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula, and an announcement to end hostility.
“If that’s the case, Beijing will have a role to play on how to implement the deals,” said Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. “That includes inspecting the North Korean nuclear shutdown, as well as a role in the economic development Kim is seeking for his country.”
Cheng said that as Pyongyang’s largest trading partner and closest ally, Beijing was in the best position to ensure the safety of the North Korean regime – Kim’s top priority and a precondition for his denuclearisation pledge.
He added that Beijing and Washington were expected to work together more on the denuclearisation process following Tuesday’s summit.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he will travel to Beijing and Seoul this week to brief senior officials, including from Japan, on the outcome of the summit.
Lu Chao, a Korean affairs specialist at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, also said Beijing had a role to play in the process in the future.
“China will help both sides to meet their promises – it will be a guarantor and a mediator to ensure that any deals that are made at the summit are well implemented,” Lu said.