Don't Get Excited About Kim Jong-il's China Visit

  • By Lee Ha-won, the Chosun Ilbo's correspondent in Washington

    April 08, 2010 12:35

    Lee Ha-won

    Hwang Jang-yop, a former secretary of North Korea's Workers' Party, in a lecture he recently gave in Washington said any attempt to deal with Kim Jong-il is "not to fight fire but the shadow of fire." It was a warning against any hopes that Kim's apparently impending visit to China will prompt the dictator to start behaving more sensibly. "Don't place any expectations on the Kim Jong-il regime," Hwang added. He made similar remarks in an interview with CNN as well.

    Hwang (87) has been watching Kim since the "dear leader" was in his teens and helped establish the North's "juche" or self-reliance ideology. His remarks are not to be taken lightly.

    Cheong Wa Dae recently announced almost officially that Kim Jong-il is likely to visit China soon. I couldn't understand why the presidential office would make the announcement when a briefing by the Foreign Ministry would have been quite adequate. Kim has not even left North Korea yet. Cheong Wa Dae's rashness was probably influenced by government officials and some broadcasters reporting unusual movement in China's Dandong area as if they were relaying a sporting event.

    Reporters on the U.S. State Department beat have often asked how likely it is that Kim will really visit China. The official answers are boringly similar: If Kim visits China, the U.S. hopes that concerns about Pyongyang's nuclear program will be discussed. No U.S. official has confirmed or denied that Kim is imminently visiting China, on the assumption that haste would be out of place. And no one complains. The U.S. has been deceived by North Korea for nearly two decades, and is beginning to realize that whatever it does in haste, it has to repent at leisure.

    Of course Kim's moves are important. But nothing substantial changed in North Korea following any of his previous visits and instead the North has developed its nuclear weapons at leisure, so wild speculation about another visit is not only precipitate, it is also pointless. Kim's every move should be watched, but Cheong Wa Dae should not talk up his China visit as if it was an earth-shattering event. Kim is nothing but a dictator trying to boost his regime with a visit to his big ally, with nothing but nuclear weapons and threats to extort economic aid. It is worth listening to Hwang when he said, "As long as China keeps its alliance with North Korea, it's an illusion to expect China to mediate."

    Even if Kim does promise to return to six-party nuclear talks if and when he visits China, it would be rash to regard that as a major turning point. A resumption of the six-party talks, unless the North really decides to give up its nuclear weapons, would be meaningless. We should expect nothing from Kim's China visit.

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