Kim Jong-un, top leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), paid an unofficial visit to China at the invitation of President Xi Jinping from March 25 to 28.
At his meeting with Xi, Kim discussed the Korean Peninsula issue, and his scheduled meeting with Republic of Korea (ROK) President Moon Jae-in on April 27 as well as his planned meeting with US President Donald Trump sometime in May, according to Xinhua News Agency.
The DPRK leader’s visit to China and his meeting with Xi must have surprised those who were arguing that Beijing had been marginalized after Trump agreed to a historic meeting with Kim. The China skeptics tried to further their argument after the date for the Kim-Moon meeting was announced.
In fact, there was no reason for China’s detractors to be surprised at Kim’s visit. After Trump tweeted that he would like to meet with Kim, he called Xi to convey the US’ views on the Korean Peninsula issue. Shortly after that, Chung Eui-yong, special envoy of the ROK president, visited China to further explain the developments.
These facts should allay whatever doubts the China skeptics have about the importance and indispensability of China in the peninsula issue. They should also know the traditional friendship between China and the DPRK was built in the “crucible of war” and is based on mutual benefit.
The two countries have common strategic interests in promoting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. Although the DPRK’s persistent adherence to the nuclear and missile program did somewhat affect its ties with China, Kim understands that maintaining good relations with Beijing is key to keeping peace on the peninsula.
That Kim visited China immediately after the annual sessions of China’s top legislature and top political advisory body suggests the DPRK is committed to improving its relations with China, and his first overseas trip after becoming the DPRK’s top leader will likely pave the way for restoring permanent peace and stability on the peninsula.
Pyongyang also needs Beijing’s support to raise the stakes in its bargaining with Seoul and Washington. Even with positive changes, the fundamental dynamics of rivalry between the DPRK and the US, as well as the ROK, are not going to change overnight, as demonstrated by the resumption of the Washington-Seoul annual military drills, called Key Resolve and Foal Eagle.
That the drills are ostensibly targeted at the DPRK adds uncertainty to the forthcoming summit-level meetings. No wonder the DPRK has felt the need to enhance strategic communication with China before the two meetings.
It remains to be seen how the Korean Peninsula situation develops, but China will continue to hold a fair and just position, because it is ready to contribute to the efforts of all parties concerned to achieve the goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through peaceful means.
The author is a military commentator based in Beijing.