The current level of Chinese influence over North Korea could be clearer in the next few days, when details of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il’s visit to China start to seep out.
Although the Chinese Foreign Ministry has not yet confirmed the visit, media reports suggest that Kim arrived yesterday in Dandong, on the Chinese-North Korean border, in a 17-car train, which then travelled on to the port city of Dalian.
Yesterday, the accounts were hazy and it wasn’t clear for sure whether it really was Kim that had arrived. According to the Yonhap news agency, a convoy of limousines arrived at a 5-star hotel in the city, where a staff member told China Daily that an ‘event’ was taking place. Reuters added that the hotel was covered in a giant white sheet to keep out prying eyes.
But TV footage of a limping Kim captured on images broadcast by South Korea’s KBS TV seem to have put paid to any doubt. The China Daily has said there has been no coverage so far of the visit, although this isn’t unusual as such trips are typically covered only after Kim arrives back in North Korea.
The issue of whether North Korea will return soon to the Six-Party talks on its denuclearization (it’s ironic that Kim appears to have rolled up in China on the same day that The Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Review Conference started in New York), an issue complicated by what has looked increasingly over the weeks like the deliberate sinking of a South Korean warship by North Korea.
Will China be able to reason with a man who is, well, so unreasonable? Wu Dawei, China’s special envoy for Korean Peninsula affairs, reportedly said that Beijing expected the stalled nuclear talks to resume before July. But the sinking of the Cheonan is likely to have hardened positions in Seoul and Washington (and won’t have amused China either).
Of course as I’ve said before, even if China is able to cajole North Korea back to the talks, there’s no guarantee that any agreement would be worth the paper it’s written on. The attack on the Cheonan, which claimed the lives of 46 South Korean sailors, hardly suggests a negotiating partner of good faith.