Kim Jong-un's China Visit Highlights Bumpy Road Ahead

  • By Kim Jin-myung

    March 29, 2018 11:53

    North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Monday proposed to Chinese President Xi Jinping "phased and simultaneous steps for peace." That sounds suspiciously like the salami-slicing tactics of his father Kim Jong-il of eking out small tit-for-tat concessions to string the international community along.

    Wi Sung-lac, a former South Korean representative to six-party talks said, "This shows that North Korea intends to hang on to its nuclear weapons for as long as possible and only consider scrapping them at the very last stage."

    Chine quoted Kim as telling Xi, "The issue of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula can be resolved if South Korea and the U.S. respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realization of peace."

    That seems essentially aimed at easing crippling international sanctions for little concrete effort in return. North Korea has repeatedly reneged on previous pledges after receiving the rewards, ditching promises to let international inspectors check its nuclear facilities and others.

    Kang Jun-young at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies said, "If you get mired in the 'phased' approach, you just end up repeating past failures in negotiations."

    Also, the "goodwill" Kim mentioned appears to refer to a halt or downscaling in joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises and easing of sanctions, though it is unclear what they would have "goodwill" in. 

    North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (right) approaches Chinese President Xi Jinping (2nd from left) at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing during his secret visit to China earlier this week. /Yonhap

    Kim's visit revealed just how different the goals are that the two Koreas and the U.S. are pursuing. Although all sides are talking about denuclearization, they are miles apart on ways to achieving it.

    Kim's proposal encapsulates exactly the mistakes U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed never to repeat. U.S. White House National Security adviser nominee John Bolton is seeking a Libyan-style denuclearization deal of scrapping nuclear weapons first, followed by rewards.

    The consistent U.S. line has been to insist on "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization." The South Korean government has proposed packaging the nuclear issue with a peace treaty to replace the armistice that halted the Korean War, but that has so far found little traction.

    China has proposed simultaneously halting North Korea's nuclear tests and joint U.S.-South Korean military drills.

    Park Byung-kwang at the Institute for National Security Strategy, said, "The joint statement did not contain any reference to the resumption of six-party talks, which is what China wanted. North Korea continues to reject six-party talks, and differences seem to persist between China and the North when it comes to the specific method of denuclearization."

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