Xi-Kim meeting paves way for next summits

By Cheng Xiaohe Source:Global Times Published: 2018/4/2 20:53:40

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's surprise visit to China caught many analysts off guard. Nonetheless, the meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Kim in Beijing helped normalize the two countries' political ties, add extra momentum to the ongoing rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula and helped kick in the season of summit diplomacy involving almost all the major players in Northeast Asia.

It is no secret that relations between China and North Korea have navigated choppy waters since both nations had a significant disagreement over the latter's nuclear and missile development. The political and economic ties have been abnormal.

As a symbol of the abnormality, the top Chinese and North Korean leaders have not visited each other's capitals for more than six years. The only obstacle to Kim's visit to Beijing had been North Korea's unwillingness to talk about its nuclear programs. As Kim made public his willingness to have denuclearization talks with US President Donald Trump, the stumbling block was thus removed.

The Xi-Kim summit is significant in three ways.

First of all, Sino-North Korean relations are poised to return to a normal track. As both sides share a common desire to carry on their traditional friendship, China and North Korea will normalize their political ties by strengthening their high-level exchanges and strategic communication.

We have reasons to expect that the stalled bilateral strategic dialogue will be restarted and consultations over bilateral, regional and world issues between the two countries will become regular. Xi may visit Pyongyang this year. The interactions between China and North Korea will make North Korea less isolated and encourage it to be more engaging in the upcoming summits with South Korea and the US. 

Second, North Korea's commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was further confirmed. For years, North Korea has succeeded in convincing the world that it will never put its nuclear weapons on the negotiating table and will unswervingly develop its economy and nuclear weapons simultaneously. Most analysts lost hope of North Korea abandoning its nuclear weapons.

Kim dramatically generated enthusiasm among them by conveying his willingness to give up nuclear weapons under certain circumstances through Chung Eui-yong, special envoy of South Korean President Moon Jae-in. As North Korean media still remained silent on its nuclear programs, the outside world relied on this sole source from South Korea about the changes of North Korea's attitude toward its nuclear program.

Given previous turns and twists surrounding North Korea's nuclear issues, some analysts harbor a deep-seated suspicion of North Korea's real intentions. The Xi-Kim Summit opened a second reliable source of information regarding North Korea's new thinking, and thus rendered extra credibility to North Korea's commitment to denuclearization.

More importantly, Kim seized the change to reveal some of his thoughts regarding his talks with other leaders. He claimed the realization of peace can be achieved by "taking progressive and synchronous measures."

Even though the message should be further clarified by North Korea, we may perceive this as advocacy of three basic principles that can guide future denuclearization talks: gradualism and reciprocity, and "pledge to pledge, action to action" already embodied in the 9.18 Joint Statement.

Third, the significance of the Xi-Kim Summit will spill over into bilateral relations and have a ripple effect through Northeast Asia. With China's deep involvement in denuclearization talks, the ongoing inter-Korean rapprochement will be further strengthened and communication and consultations among stakeholders will be further accelerated.

Kim may visit Russia in the next few months. After meeting Kim on April 27, Moon may go to Washington. A China-Japan-South Korea trilateral summit is slated to take place in early May. Moon and Abe will get a chance to meet. If everything goes well, Kim and Trump will meet in some place. Even though the Kim-Trump summit will drum up a media frenzy, it may prove to be difficult as the two leaders will offer some definite answers to the toughest questions: When and how and under what conditions will the Korean Peninsula be denuclearized?

The Xi-Kim summit was one of the diplomatic achievements of China and North Korea, but this was a win not only for the two nations but for all of the stakeholders in the region. US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Twitter the summit was "an unprecedented, historic step in the right direction." We believe it will pave the way for the success of other upcoming summits.

The author is associate professor, School of International Studies, Renmin University of China; senior researcher, Pangoal Institute. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn


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