Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomed and expressed support for the inter-Korean and the North Korea-U.S. summits on Monday in a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s top security advisor Chung Eui-yong, who led the special envoys to North Korea, hoping that it could make a good result. Chung also had luncheon and dinner meetings with China’s top foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, respectively. It is unprecedented that Xi and China’s top diplomatic officers made time to attend the briefing by the special envoy given that the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and National People's Congress are currently taking place. This shows the Chinese leadership is paying keen attention on the developments surrounding the Korean Peninsula while raising concerns over China being excluded from the historical diplomatic breakthrough.
Beijing should feel uncomfortable although they welcomed the decision made by the U.S., South and North Korean leaders. Until now, it has arranged North Korea-U.S. dialogues and chaired the six-party talks, playing an active role of mediator. But this time around, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have agreed to hold a meeting after South Korean President Moon’s delegation delivered the leaders’ direct message, for the first time in history. Not a single summit between Pyongyang and Beijing had been taken place since Kim Jong Un took power. Let alone restoring blood alliance, China has to do something to exert greater influence while seeking to shape the geopolitical order on the peninsula.
China has long argued the denuclearization would be achieved only by ceasing both South Korea-U.S. joint military drills and nuclear or missile provocations by the North. But Kim Jong Un pledged that the regime would refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests, not demanding a cessation of joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States. It was China’s faithful implementation of the sanctions that pushed North Korea to the negotiating table. China adding pressure on the North with the stricter sanctions and their effective implementation has led Kim Jong Un to invite Trump for talks. If the unprecedented meeting between Kim and Trump takes place and if diplomatic developments occur, the Chinese government may have no other option but to completely change its North Korea policy, which aims to have its neighboring ally as a strategic buffer zone in vying for geopolitical power with the United States.
“We are trying to achieve what the world has failed to do so far,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Monday. “If we succeed, there will be dramatic changes in world history and the Republic of Korea will have played the leading role.” Any developments on the North Korea-U.S. relations are bound to transform the geopolitical order not only on the Korean Peninsula but also in Northeast Asia. Thus, it is natural Beijing keeps its eyes wide open to changes of the situation. Nevertheless, China, the one and only ally that North Korea relies on economically and politically, cannot be replaced by the United States.
Three principles in China’s strategy for achieving North Korean denuclearization include promoting denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, protecting peace and stability, seeking dialogues and negotiations. China has amended its constitution to abolish the two-term limit for the country's president, allowing Xi Jinping to lead for life. China’s foreign policy – so-called “great power diplomacy” that is to be carried out in earnest, will be put under scrutiny. The first testing stand is to see if Beijing will be able to establish peace and order in the region through denuclearization. China does not view itself as a guardian of the reclusive regime any longer. As a world power and a responsible member of the international community, it needs to take the leading role in reshaping the order in Northeast Asia.