China Prefers Devil It Knows

 
 

Following his return from a May 3-7 visit to the People’s Republic of China, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il affirmed his government’s willingness to respect his hosts’ desires and resume participation in the Six-Party Talks on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate time. The talks have remained suspended following an upsurge in tensions last April, when the UN Security Council imposed additional sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea after North Korea launched a ballistic missile under the guise of testing space rockets. Pyongyang responded defiantly by withdrawing from the talks and then testing another nuclear weapon, the second following its initial test in October 2006, in contravention of previous UN resolutions.

According to the state-controlled Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim ‘expressed the DPRK’s willingness to provide favourable conditions for the resumption of the Six-party talks.’  He also said that his government ‘remains unchanged in its basic stand to preserve the aim of denuclearising the Korean peninsula, implement the joint statement adopted at the Six-party talks and pursue a peaceful solution through dialogue.’ The KCNA report, issued on May 8, resembles statements that appeared the previous day in the Chinese government media, which only confirmed Kim’s visit after he had left. ‘The North Korea side stated that its stance in favour of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula has not changed,’ the government-run Xinhua news agency related on May 7. ‘The North Korean side is willing, together with all parties, to discuss creating favourable conditions for restarting the Six-party talks.’

Although welcome, the wording is sufficiently vague as to cast doubt on whether a genuine breakthrough has occurred. Kim has often promised de-nuclearization; the problem has always been getting him to implement these pledges. The statements don’t, for example, mention any timetable and the reference to ‘favourable conditions’ could mean a restatement of North Korean demands that it would only rejoin the talks if the United Nations lifted its sanctions and the United States agreed to sign a treaty formally ending the Korean War.

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The KCNA report gives the impression that one way Chinese officials tried to induce Kim to make even this vague commitment was to endorse Kim’s efforts to have his third son, Jong-Un, succeed him as leader. Kim, who looked partly paralyzed and emaciated even in the Chinese TV broadcasts of his recent visit, reportedly suffered a major stroke in August 2008. KCNA related a statement by Kim that ties between the two nations will remain unchanged ‘despite the passage of time and the replacement of one generation by a new one,’ which also alludes to Kim’s becoming North Korea’s leader following the death of his father Kim Il-Sung, who founded North Korea after World War II. According to Xinhua, Chinese President Hu Jintao also said at a state dinner in Kim’s honour that ‘the traditional friendship between China and the DPRK is the common treasures of the two governments, parties and peoples, and it is the historical responsibility of the two sides to push forward their friendship with the progress of the times and from generation to generation.’

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