Posted November. 18, 2017 07:41,
Updated November. 18, 2017 09:02
Song Tao, head of the Chinese Communist Party’s International Liaison Department, arrived in North Korea Friday as a special envoy of President Xi Jinping in a 4-day trip. This is the first minister-level visit in two years since Politburo Standing Committee member Liu Yunshan paid a visit to North Korea in October 2015. The Chinese government said the main objective of Song’s visit was to report the North on the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. But the talks will likely be centered on resolving the North Korean nuclear issue as the visit comes after U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel to South Korea, China and Japan and his talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Chinese President Xi Jinping on ways to resolve nuclear crisis with North Korea. Song’s visit to North Korea is expected to be an important turning point in resuming talks with the North.
Song will reportedly deliver a letter or verbal message from President Xi to reiterate China’s firm commitment to “denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula” and show that Xi is willing to improve relations with North Korea in his second term as president. Song could meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and persuade him into suspending nuclear and missile tests and coming to the negotiating table. If North Korea responds positively to China’s suggestions, a summit meeting between China and North Korea that has not been held in six years since Kim assumed power could take place.
In the meantime, Trump showed his expectation, calling the visit “a big move” on his twitter accounts Thursday. The United States lowered the threshold for resuming talks with North Korea in time for the Chinese envoy’s visit to the North. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis also stated the same day that North Korea would have a change for dialogue if it suspends nuclear tests and development and export of weapons. The United States reportedly asked China to deliver its message to the North that the regime could be in big trouble if it ignores deterrence capability of the United States and the North should proclaim its will to give up nuclear program in exchange for dialogue.
But the situation is not optimistic as North Korea said Friday on Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Workers' Party of Korea, that, “We will never put issues related to our interest and the safety of our people on the negotiating table.” If Kim eventually refuses to accept China’s suggestions, Xi will likely put further pressure on the North by cutting off all shipments of oil to the country. This could spoil the current mood for dialogue, making nuclear crisis with North Korea even worse.
China remains to be North Korea’s only ally as of now, but it cannot forever side with the North if Beijing decides that Pyongyang is not in its interest anymore. Chinese special envoy’s visit to the North should not give the regime time to complete its nuclear development. China should clarify to Kim Jong Un that this is his last chance to resolve the nuclear crisis. Kim should also realize that the time is not on his side.