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China, North Korea Strengthen Ties at Historic Summit as US-China Tensions Worsen

Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un meet in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Photo: Korean Central News Agency)
Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un meet in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Photo: Korean Central News Agency)

“China is our ‘old friend’ who suffered and overcame the hardships of their modern history […] I will strengthen the communication channel and thus our trust through active exchanges and dialogues.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping reached a consensus on “vital issues” and agreed to build a friendship regardless of outside influences, as North Korea’s state news agency KCNA, reported on Saturday.

President Xi Jinping made a two-day visit to Pyongyang, the first such visit for China in 14 years. The visit comes a week before the G-20 summit in Japan on June 28 and June 29, where Xi is scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump to discuss ongoing trade tensions between the two countries.

The meeting is Xi’s first with Kim after the latter met with Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam last February. Those talks ended abruptly and without any formal progress made as both Trump and Kim held different views on how to proceed towards denuclearization.

“It was about the sanctions. Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that,“ Trump said in a press conference after the summit.

While Trump believes that Pyongyang wants all sanctions removed before proceeding with denuclearization, North Korea says it wanted half the embargo to be lifted.

China Wants to Help Denuclearize North Korea

During the historic meeting between Xi and Kim, Xi expressed the importance of security in the Korean Peninsula.  Xi also stated that China intends to take an active role in resolving the denuclearization issue between Pyongyang and Washington, which is far from over.

The meeting between Xi and Kim came as the two countries celebrated the 70th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations.

China is one of North Korea’s main allies, despite a strained relationship due to Beijing’s critical stance on Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. But their vital close ties can help to push forward the denuclearization process, as South Korea’s ambassador to China, Jang-ha Sung, said.

“China is our ‘old friend’ who suffered and overcame the hardships of their modern history […] I will strengthen the communication channel and thus our trust through active exchanges and dialogues,” the South China Morning Post quoted Jang as saying.

“The role of neighboring countries surrounding the Korean peninsula, particularly China, has become significant […] China has a crucial role in the denuclearization process and for preserving peace on the Korean peninsula,” Jang added.

Both Countries Want Sanctions Relief

While many see China’s meeting with North Korea as a sign that China wants to show it is still a heavyweight of international affairs, China’s main goal was believed to be to affirm economic cooperation and North Korean stability.

“China has proved to be the main destination for most of North Korea’s exports, including minerals, fish, textiles, and also workers,” North Korea analyst Peter Ward told the BBC.

“China would prefer to relax U.N. sanctions in these areas,” Ward added. “It wants to ensure that North Korea’s economy grows at a fair pace and that the North does not feel the need to test ballistic missiles and/or nuclear weapons again.”

However, it is unlikely that the sanctions will be lifted soon and Beijing can do nothing about it, at least for now.

No Formal Agreements Made

The North Korea trip was seen as China’s commitment to pursuing peace in the Korean Peninsula and supporting its ally. However, ultimately no agreements or memorandums were signed during the talks, though President Xi did state: “Both sides can work together to implement the various agreements [reached] during the visit this time.” Xi did not elaborate on what agreements he referred to.

What the Xi-Kim summit did do was strengthen relations between China and North Korea as the G-20 meeting approaches and as affairs between the U.S. and China grow increasingly tense over trade. But will Trump see China’s meeting with North Korea as helpful or as an intrusion on the denuclearization process?

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Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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