Xi’s visit to North Korea: what did it achieve?
Dr Gunjan Singh

The visit by Xi Jinping to North Korea on June 20-21, 2019 is significant because a Chinese President reached Pyongyang after 14 years. This year also marks the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the neighbours. Xi made the trip with his wife Peng Liyuan, foreign minister Wang Yi, the top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi and head of the National Development and Reform Commission, He Lifeng.1

The last 14 years have witnessed a growing sternness on Chinese side due to the continued missile testing. Beijing even accepted to follow the sanctions imposed by the United Nations. These sanctions have harmed the North Korean economy and thus this visit should be viewed as a major deal breaker for Pyongyang.

Prior to his visit Xi wrote a front page op-ed in the North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun arguing that Beijing supports Pyongyang’s "correct direction" towards a resolution of the Korean Peninsula.2 In this article Xi stressed that both him and Kim were capable of leading this relationship towards a new era and this visit will mark the starting of new chapter in the relationship.3 The visit has been high on optic and is termed a state visit. Both leaders have visited a number of venues. North Korea had organized a major programme for Xi which highlighted the importance and closeness between the two sides. There were 250,000 people on the streets of Pyongyang to welcome Xi Jinping4 and a gymnastics how at the Rungrado May Day Stadium5. The pomp and show clearly highlights the importance which North Korea attaches to this relationship.

Xi visits days before he is scheduled to meet the leaders of Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States at the G20 Summit.6 All these countries have major stakes in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The ongoing weapons tests by North Korea affect their security strongly. The failure of the last meeting between President Trump and Kim at Hanoi, will also cast its shadows over this visit. Kim’s visit to Russia will also be an important backdrop.

It is obvious that economic issues and maintenance of peace and stability in the region are one of the top agendas of discussion. During a welcome banquet held by Kim Jong-un Xi said, “Beijing is willing to join Pyongyang in opening up a bright future for bilateral ties, and lasting peace and common prosperity in the region”.7 This clearly underscores the argument that the visits was aimed to look for ways that will help North Korea attain some economic prosperity and also mitigate the existing issues on the path of peace.

The issue of nuclear weapons and denuclearization was also an important agenda and was raised by Xi. In the speech Xi said, “Beijing and Pyongyang also agreed that a political settlement of the nuclear issue in the Korean Peninsula has been a popular aspiration and an inevitable trend, and that they need to continue to stick to peace talks so as to make even greater contributions to peace, stability and prosperity in the region and the wider world”.8 Xi did argue that Kim and Trump need to continue their talk if a suitable solution to the Korean Peninsula issue is to be reached.

The visit is also symbolically important for both Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un. With this visit Xi has made it very clear that Beijing continues to hold a key position in the regional development. It also highlights that North Korea is still dependent on China and will not make any decisions without Beijing’s support and approval. It also puts Xi in a stronger position when he meets President Trump at the G20 summit and the issue of North Korea is discussed. As reported by the state run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), “The supreme leaders have exchanged wide-ranging opinions on important international and regional issues under the serious and complex changes in the international and regional situation”.9

For Kim this visit helps in portraying that he still has the Chinese support and that Beijing will continue to help Kim achieve the ultimate agenda of peace as well as economic growth. China has always helped Pyongyang survive in spite of the ongoing United Nations sanctions.

When Xi left Pyongyang on Friday afternoon not much was clear about the future outcomes. Xi had asserted about the importance of economic growth as well as denuclearization and also emphasised on the value of meeting between Kim and Trump. As no major announcements were made a lot is left to speculation and assumption. One can argue that the primary agenda of this trip was to get a sense of how Kim was thinking and also to push him to continue the talks. Beijing is unable to impose the sanctions fully as it may lead to a regime failure in North Korea, an outcome which China wants to avoid at any cost.

The symbolism and show raises the idea that China wanted to assert its big brother position vis-a-vis North Korea and to push the younger brother to behave more responsibly. Beijing is keen to get Kim to the negotiating table with the United States and also hopes that it will not undertake any major nuclear and missile tests. The regional peace is essential for Beijing too and it also wants Pyongyang to me more integrated with the world economy as it will help achieve economic growth. Though this was one of the most important developments of 2019 what it actually achieved is still not clear.

Refrences
  1. “Xi Jinping lands in North Korea for first visit by a Chinese leader in 14 years” South China Morning Post, June 20, 2019 at https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3015307/xi-jinping-lands-north-korea-first-visit-chinese-leader-14, (accessed June 20, 2019).
  2. “China's Xi backs North Korea in op-ed for Pyongyang paper” Al Jazeera, June 19, 2019 at https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/06/china-xi-backs-north-korea-op-ed-pyongyang-paper-190619024730572.html, (accessed June 19, 2019).
  3. “Xi begins two-day state visit to DPRK” China Daily, June 20, 2019 at http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201906/20/WS5d0a835aa3103dbf14329308.html, (accessed June 20, 2019).
  4. “North Korea holds mass celebration in Xi's honor amid talks on US tensions’ CNN, June 21, 2019 at https://edition.cnn.com/2019/06/20/asia/xi-kim-north-korea-china-intl-hnk/index.html, (accessed June 21, 2019).
  5. “Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un present united front against ‘serious international changes’” South China Morning Post, June 21, 2019 at https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3015472/xi-jinping-and-kim-jong-un-present-united-front-against, (accessed June 21, 2019).
  6. “Xi heads to North Korea as fate of US nuclear deal still up in the air” CNN, June 19, 2019 at https://edition.cnn.com/2019/06/19/asia/xi-jinping-north-korea-visit-hnk-intl/index.html, (accessed June 19, 2019).
  7. “China ready to join DPRK for brighter future of ties, regional peace, prosperity: Xi” Xinhua, June 21, 2019 at http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-06/21/c_138159732.htm, (accessed June 21, 2019).
  8. “China ready to join DPRK for brighter future of ties, regional peace, prosperity: Xi” Xinhua, June 21, 2019 at http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-06/21/c_138159732.htm, (accessed June 21, 2019).
  9. “Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un present united front against ‘serious international changes’” South China Morning Post, June 21, 2019 at https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3015472/xi-jinping-and-kim-jong-un-present-united-front-against, (accessed June 21, 2019).

(Dr Gunjan Singh, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, ICWA)
(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


Image Source: https://cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/180328104116-china-xi-kim-exlarge-169.jpg

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