The United States has agreed to a bilateral meeting with North Korea at China’s urging, according to a report in a Japanese newspaper.
The Asahi Shimbun (ASW) reported on Tuesday that Glyn Davies, America’s special representative for North Korea policy, is likely to hold a bilateral meeting with North Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan in a third country in the near future. The meeting will take place only after South and North Korea have held a dialogue. ASW said that the U.S. did not intend to agree to unconditional talks during the meeting, as Pyongyang has demanded.
The U.S. and North Korea have been known to hold secret meetings in the past, particularly through the so-called “New York channel,” a phrase often used to describe meetings between North Korea’s UN delegation and U.S. officials.
In April, The Cable reported that the U.S. special envoy to the six-party talks, Clifford Hart, met with North Korea’s Deputy UN Ambassador Han Song-ryol back in March, right before the crisis on the Korean Peninsula began. Other reports claimed that Obama administration officials secretly traveled to North Korea twice in 2012 to feel out of the new leadership in Pyongyang. Little was accomplished any of these meetings, according to the reports.
What makes the ASW report interesting is the role it attributes to China. According to the newspaper, it was at China’s urging that the Obama administration reluctantly agreed to meet with a North Korean official. Even then, Washington reportedly only agreed to this after the Xi-Obama summit at Sunnylands earlier this month, when China agreed to step-up its pressure on North Korea.
Indeed, in recent weeks there have been a number of signs that China is putting nearly unprecedented pressure on North Korea.
This actually began in May before the summit when China mostly spurned Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae during his trip to China on behalf of Kim Jong-Un. Not only was Choe unsuccessful in securing an invite for Kim Jong-Un to visit China, but China and South Korea announced that South Korean President Park would visit China this month while Choe was in Beijing. Seoul and Beijing made this announcement despite not having set actual dates for the trip at that point.
Then, right as the Xi-Obama summit began—of which North Korea was expected to figure prominently— North Korea surprised everyone by proposing a meeting with South Korea. The two sides held a working-level meeting the day after the Xi-Obama summit ended. Although a government meeting was scheduled for the following week, with the Sunnylands summit over North Korea successfully thwarted the meeting with Seoul by proposing to send a lower-level official than had been agreed upon.
Instead it offered to talk to the U.S. and then sent Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea’s long-time nuclear negotiator and the official expected to meet with Glyn Davies, to China. Upon arriving in China, last Friday, Kim held a meeting with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi, whose statements following the talk underscored the pressure China was exerting on North Korea.
“China insists on actualizing non-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, insists on maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula, and insists on resolving issues through dialogue and consultation,” Yang said following the meeting with Kim.
He added, “Currently, an easing momentum has emerged in the situation on the peninsula, which is nevertheless still complex and sensitive. It is hoped that all parties will actively engage in dialogue and contact, push for the situation to continue to turn better, and seek an early resumption of the six-party talks.”
For his part, Kim said during the post-dialogue press conference that: “The denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was the dying wish of Chairman Kim Il Sung and General Secretary Kim Jong Il.” This statement was particularly remarkable given that North Korea has repeatedly pledged that it would not surrender its nuclear arsenal. Indeed, following Kim Jong-Il’s death in December of 2011, Pyongyang honored him by amending its constitution to define North Korea as a nuclear weapon state. In some ways, then, this reversal is a rebuke of Kim Jong-Il, which would not go unnoticed by some of the North Korean elite.
Later on Friday, in New York, North Korea’s UN Ambassador Sin Son-ho, held a rare press conference, his first since 2010. Speaking in English, Sin called for an end to UN sanctions and the dismantling of the UN military command in South Korea. At the same time, he reiterated Pyongyang’s call for talks with the United States and underscored its desire to conclude a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended active fighting in the Korean War. Most notably, he reiterated that “Denuclearization is our final destination.”
Thus, after backing himself into a corner during his self-made crisis earlier this year, Kim Jong-Un has appeared to all but hand over the reins of North Korean foreign policy to decision-makers in Beijing. As one source put it, “Not since the Korean War has China guided North Korean affairs so closely. It essentially has taken over Pyongyang’s foreign policy strategy on peninsular issues.”
This isn’t much of a surprise. After all, Kim Jong-Un is no master strategist.