An unprecedented scene played out between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Following his 4th trip to Pyongyang, Pompeo got into an unprecedented verbal argument on an official diplomatic occasion with his Chinese counterpart. Yi called on Washington to refrain from the wrongs. In response, Pompeo rebutted that there is a fundamental difference in China’s and the U.S.’ opinions. Chinese President Xi Jinping even refused a meeting with Pompeo. With the two countries at odds with each other over trade issues, their disagreement was reflected in last month’s U.S. test-flight of strategic bombers in Southeast Sea, and finally led to an eruption of such an emotional conflict in Beijing.
Pompeo shared the results of his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and requested China’s cooperation on the North Korean nuclear issue. Chinese Minister Yi responded that a stable bilateral relationship is the basis for cooperating on international affairs including the North Korean nuclear issue. He also said that China will play a unique and significant role in the process. It is interpreted as a warning message to Washington that China will not assist the United States in a way that is favorable to it and an independent role can be played by China with great influence on North Korea if the United States continues its all-out pressure on China in terms of trade. There should not be a deepening mistrust between the two countries over sanctions against North Korea.
It is regrettable that their disagreement, compared as a 21st-century Cold War, is developing in such a critical moment when the international community has to lead the North to the path toward denuclearization in one unified voice. If China does not cooperate sufficiently, it may become more difficult to set a roadmap on Korean Peninsula issues with a U.S.-North Korea summit and Kim’s visit to Seoul expected to happen. China and Russia have already raised their voices over a lessening of North Korea sanctions at the United Nations. Added to this, North Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Choi Sun Hui visited Moscow Tuesday to attend a meeting with her counterparts from China and Russia. If North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Xi make a visit to Russia and Pyongyang, respectively, in the near future, North Korea is partly likely to slow down denuclearization by taking advantage of the power struggle among its neighboring powers.
The United States and China alike should not link denuclearization to other irrelevant affairs such as trade disagreement and Taiwan-related issues. In particular, China has not shown its responsibility as a global leader when it lessened sanctions on the border area with North Korea with the U.S.-China’s trade war only escalating; and when the foreign minister himself mentioned that a stable bilateral relationship is the foundation for cooperation on resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. Denuclearization is a step that has to be taken not in the U.S. interests, but rather for long-lasting peace and stability across Northeast Asia. China has put the North Korean nuclear issue behind its diplomatic and security interests, which naturally turned out to be an obstacle to global efforts to stop the North’s nuclear development. Washington and Beijing have to prevent Kim’s miscalculations by confirming that the international community stays firm until the North realizes denuclearization.