China’s role in NK nuclear issue cannot be circumvented

By Wang Sheng Source:Global Times Published: 2019/9/2 20:53:40

Photo: IC

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi embarks on a visit to North Korea Monday. The trip comes at the invitation of North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho. The year 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of China-North Korea diplomatic ties. Wang's visit to Pyongyang serves as a follow-up step of the meeting between top leaders of both countries in June and is an important part of celebrations on the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties between China and North Korea. At this point in time, deepening bilateral cooperation is in line with China's neighborhood diplomacy and the needs of maintaining regional peace in Northeast Asia.

The current international landscape has been undergoing great changes, especially in Northeast Asia. The US-initiated trade war has brought uncertainties to the region. In such a context, it's imperative for China to maintain a peaceful and stable environment in the peripheral region and reinforce strategic cooperation with neighboring countries. 

The Korean Peninsula nuclear issue and the progress of US-North Korea nuclear talks are expected to top the agenda of Wang's trip. Beijing and Pyongyang should meet each other half way to realize the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Negotiations between the US and North Korea over the North Korean nuclear issue now are at a delicate time. Reuters reported on Saturday that North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui has warned Washington not to test Pyongyang's patience, claiming US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's description of Pyongyang's behavior as "rogue" made the resumption of talks between the two countries more difficult. 

Washington-Pyongyang nuclear talks are stalled. North Korea said it would wait until the end of the year before deciding on whether to take a "new path." After the Hanoi summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump, Kim said, "We will wait for a bold decision from the US with patience till the end of this year."

However, the Trump administration is coping with other crucial issues such as the 2020 presidential election and the US-launched trade war with China. The North Korean nuclear issue may not be on the top of its agenda. The prospect of nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang seems uncertain. In this context, China's role in peacefully resolving the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue is of particular significance. Beijing should reinforce cooperation with Pyongyang to give the latter more confidence in taking the path to denuclearization. China should also encourage North Korea to continue to engage in peaceful negotiations with the US, safeguarding the hard-won peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Economy may be another important item on the agenda of Beijing and Pyongyang. As early as in 2017, Kim had urged the shift of national focus to economic growth. China remains North Korea's largest trading partner. Total trade volume between China and North Korea stood at $1.25 billion in the first half of 2019, an increase of 14.3 percent compared with the same period in 2018. The two countries may seek more cooperation in the economic sphere, especially under the framework of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.

To enhance mutual understanding, both countries may also discuss ways of enhancing cultural and people-to-people exchanges. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Pyongyang in June 2019 shows that relations have entered a new era and solid bilateral ties will provide new impetus for addressing the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue. If the two countries continue to move toward the same direction in dealing with the nuclear issue, other nations in the region, such as South Korea and Russia, will contribute to peaceful negotiations, which is beneficial for regional security and peaceful development.

The author is professor of Department of International Politics of School of Public Administration at Jilin University and expert on the Korean Peninsula issue.

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