Korean Peninsula Chess Game: the China factor

2018-05-10 13:26CGTN Editor: Gu Liping ECNS App Download

"We are seeing a more volatile and turbulent world, one with greater uncertainty and instability that the international community finds deeply unsettling." These are the words of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in one of his many speeches addressing international affairs.

Yet in a world filled with uncertainty, one move that still caught everyone by surprise was Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) leader Kim Jong Un's invitation for U.S. President Donald Trump to visit his country. For many years, Pyongyang has pushed for direct dialogue with Washington, which the latter has gone to great lengths to avoid.

If one may categorize Donald Trump as an unorthodox president with capricious motives, there were no such accusations leveled at Republic of Korea (ROK) President Moon Jae-in when he met Kim Jong Un, in an historic and symbolic event that saw the first meeting between the top leaders from the North and the South.

But while the symbolism of Kim and Moon's dialogue led many to have high hopes for the upcoming Kim-Trump meeting, they may have overlooked the significance of an event that took place immediately before Kim met Moon. That was when Kim made a short visit to China and met with President Xi Jinping, marking his first foreign visit since assuming office.

When the six-party talks were discontinued in 2009 after the DPRK's withdrawal, the role of China in solving the Korean nuclear issue has been constantly called into question. From the outset, China called for direct engagement between the DPRK and the U.S.. Such a move was interpreted by the US as reluctance on China's part in exerting its control over the DPRK, thereby shirking its responsibilities.

China's assertion that it does not hold control over the DPRK was rejected by the U.S., as was its proposition of suspension-for-suspension, in which the DPRK would suspend weapons testing and the US would suspend military drills; and the Dual Track Approach, in which the DPRK would give up its nukes and the U.S. would cease to threaten the DPRK.

In fact, the U.S.'s assertion that China should play a bigger role in solving the nuclear issue has been as unwarranted as its other rhetoric; for example, criticizing China for violating international law over its behavior in the South China Sea, when the US itself is not a signatory to the United National Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Contrary to what many Americans may think, China actually shares the U.S.'s desire for denuclearization, as a nuclearized peninsula only hinders regional peace and stability and China's own security interests. China's stance in executing the DPRK-related UN resolutions is a firm testament to China's solidarity with the international community, as are the many statements and speeches made by Chinese leaders on this subject on various occasions.

Not only is China talking the talk and walking the walk, it has also pointed out the crux of the whole conundrum; namely the deep level of mistrust between the DPRK and the US. This is manifested in a vicious cycle of missile and nuclear testing by the DPRK and military drills and economic sanctions by the US and the ROK. China is just an easy target when things start to go awry.

Even as the much-vaunted Kim-Trump meeting edges closer, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has been urging caution: "We're not going to make mistakes from previous administrations, and we're not going to take the North Koreans simply at their word. Like we've said many times before, the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue until we see concrete actions taken. We're not naïve in this process. We've seen some steps in the right direction. But we have a long way to go."

There have been no substantial negotiations between the U.S. and the DPRK since 2012, when the two sides agreed on a moratorium on long-range missiles and nuclear weapons activity in return for food aid for the DPRK. The agreement soon crumbled after Pyongyang launched a rocket easily capable of carrying a missile. If anything, the Trump administration will not be as gullible as previous administrations, but the same dynamism can also be said of Kim Jong Un, who is unlikely to follow the same path as his father Kim Jong Il.

The reason, as has been speculated, is Kim has finished his main course of nuclear testing, and is now well-fed to enjoy a dialogue with the U.S. as dessert. However, the dinner is only as pleasant as the person you dine with, and that is why the first such meeting with President Xi took place, in Beijing and the second meeting in Dalian, all in a bit over one month's time.

One of the major elements in favor of China's participation in the six-party talks is that whenever the situation reached boiling point, China would call for dialogue, a top priority for Chinese diplomacy. This would allow for tensions to be reduced, denuclearization to be resumed and efforts to be renewed. So calling for talks is not just for talking's sake, but allows for stability, preparation and real negotiation to take place.

China's view is that any improvement of the situation on the Korean Peninsula is better than continued tension, and that dialogue is better than confrontation. The international community has agreed on the common goal of denuclearization. All parties must remain committed to it, just as China is, and must move towards this goal by taking a step-by-step approach.

The direct engagement between the DPRK and the U.S. will certainly shine a positive light on the long shadow that has enveloped the peninsula. But that light can only be sustained when all parties make concerted efforts to work together. China has long been, and always will be an inalienable variable in the chess game of security in northeast Asia.

From the six party talks to the dual-track approach, China has shown itself to be the foundations of the chessboard rather than the chessman. As China puts forward the concept of building a new type of international relations, it will invest even more in fostering a safe external environment.

China will not tolerate a nuclearized DPRK or a U.S. with a mindset of social engineering, but it will wholeheartedly facilitate the process for achieving a peaceful Korean Peninsula. As President Xi noted, the Pacific Ocean is wide enough for China and the U.S. to peacefully coexist. The Pacific Ocean is also wide enough for China, the U.S. and the DPRK to leave behind their past and walk into a community of shared future.

By Shen Zhourong


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