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The Chinese View on the Inter-Korean Summit
2018.05.02  Wednesday
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Jae hung Chung

The Chinese View on the Inter-Korean Summit

 

No. 2018-24 (May 2, 2018)

Chung Jae Hung (Research Fellow, the Sejong Institute)

jameschung@sejong.org

 

 

On April 27, the 2018 inter-Korean summit between President Moon Jae-in and Chairman Kim Jong-un successfully opened a new chapter in the history of the Korean Peninsula. The two leaders agreed to end the hostile relations at Panmunjeom, the epitome of the Cold War relic of longstanding division and confrontation, to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and to cultivate inter-Korean cooperation and exchanges in various domains so as to open an era of national reconciliation, peace, and prosperity. Moreover, regarding the denuclearization issue, Kim Jong-un has exhibited proactive and genuine moves for denuclearization such as closing relevant nuclear facilities including the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and opening these to the international communityunlike the past.

China welcomed the Panmunjeom Declaration announced at this summit, expressing that it is “conducive to promoting reconciliation and cooperation between the two sides, upholding peace and stability on the Peninsula and advancing the political settlement process of the Peninsula issue.” Especially, Beijing underlined that the two Koreas, as well as the relevant parties, make active efforts to sustain this momentum of peace after the Panmunjeom declaration and to create a new historic opportunity toward a long-lasting stability and peace on the peninsula. Additionally, in South Korea, there are discussions on legislating the Panmunjeom declaration and preparing a detailed action plan to garner active support from the relevant countries to achieve more concrete and positive results in the ensuing general-level military talks and high-level talks between the two Koreas as a follow-up measure of the declaration.

Currently, most of the Chinese scholars perceive that the success of the Panmunjeom declaration hinges on what outcomes the DPRK-U.S. summit deduces. Amid the intensifying U.S.-China hegemonic competition (trade dispute, Taiwan, South China Sea, etc.) in the region, they look askance at the U.S.whether Washington could take a decision smoothly regarding the follow-up measures of the Panmunjeom declaration (i.e. the declaration to end the Korean war and the peace treaty) which will inevitably bring a sea change in U.S. rebalancing strategy in the Asia-Pacific. Particularly, the following pending issues greatly call for South Korea’s strategic approach and judicious role: the U.S. hawks’ concerns and suspicions on North Korea possibly producing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) despite the complete dismantlement of nuclear facilities and weapons as a self-proclaimed nuclear weapons state with nuclear and ICBM technology; and the abolition of biochemical weapons and mid-to-short range ballistic missiles and the North Korean human rights issues (the issue of Japanese abductees) raised at the U.S.-Japan summit.

On the most crucial agenda at the DPRK-U.S. summit, the North Korean nuclear issue, Beijing, with some reservations and concerns, particularly reiterated the implementation of its own proposition‘dual track’ approach (of dealing with the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in parallel with the establishment of the peace treaty). On the resolution to the nuclear issue, Washington and Pyongyang have conflicting views and methods, as North Korea vows progressive and synchronous measures for the denuclearization with the guarantee for regime safety whereas the U.S. prefers the Libyan model (of abolishing nuclear weapons first followed by compensations) along with complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement. Obviously, while Beijing does not rule out the possibility of a dramatic compromise at the DPRK-U.S. summit, it urges a resolution by means of common security and not the zero-sum method which does not take into account North Korea’s security concerns. This corresponds with the ‘dual track’ approach and the terms included in the September 19 Joint Statement which states the principle of ‘action-for-action’ and a phased approach which incorporates economic and security concessions in return for North Korea’s denuclearization measures.

Meanwhile, noting the case of a collapse in negotiations due to the issue of inspecting and verifying North Korea’s nuclear facilities in 2009, China accentuates South Korea’s active role to ensure that U.S. concessions are granted (e.g. lifting the sanctions on North Korea, providing large-scale economic assistance, reducing the scale of ROK-U.S. joint military exercises, normalizing relations with North Korea, etc.) corresponding to each stage of North Korea’s denuclearization from disablement, freeze, and verification to dismantlement. Particularly, emphasizing the previous cases of Iraq and Libya, North Korea is unlikely to concede to the unilateral demands from Washington (denuclearization first) in the situation where regime safety is not guaranteed and security concerns remain. Furthermore, it claims that there lies intricate and sensitive issues which requires close communications and cooperation among the relevant countries to smoothen verification and implementation of the denuclearization process of North Koreato name a few, the issue of organizing the inspection team (U.S.-led IAEA delegation or a delegation that includes China and Russia), delimiting the area of inspection of North Korean nuclear facilities, and opening the nuclear-related military installments for inspection.

In addition, pointing out the list of senior officials in the Trump administration including the peculiar and spontaneous President Trump, newly-nominated U.S. Ambassador to Seoul and former Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command Harry Harris, National Security Advisor John Bolton (hardliner on China and North Korea), new State Secretary and former CIA Director Mike Pompeo, newly-appointed CIA Director Gina Haspel, National Economic Council (NEC) Director Larry Kudlow, Beijing takes a very prudent position on the prospects of the North Korean nuclear issue after the DPRK-U.S. summitit may turn out to be resolved smoothly or not. That is, at this juncture, it perceives that the possibility of a single undertaking on the North Korean nuclear issue and the peace treaty between the American and North Korean leaders exists. On the contrary, they view that the likelihood of a military crisis on the Korean Peninsula by the failure of the summit also cannot be ruled out. As it elucidated the consolidation of President Xi Jinping’s one-man rule and the strategic initiative to realize a new Sinocentric order beyond the existing U.S.-led order by 2050 after the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress, China’s influence will probably expand on the Korean Peninsula. Eventually, China closely links the North Korean nuclear issue with the mid-to-long term strategy in foreign affairs beyond a regional issue and the issue will directly influence the dynamics underlying the U.S.-China relations.

Provided that the upcoming DPRK-U.S. summit concludes with a package deal on the denuclearization issue, the declaration to formally end the Korean War and the peace treaty will pick up the pace and the security framework on the Korean Peninsula is predicted to undergo a radical transformation. Particularly, the Chinese were left flabbergasted by the Panmunjeom declaration which stated that the two Koreas, in marking the 65th anniversary of the armistice agreement, “actively pursue trilateral meetings involving the two Koreas and the United States, or quadrilateral meetings involving the two Koreas, the United States and China with a view to declaring an end to the War and establishing a permanent and solid peace regime.” Currently, China maintains that a declaration to end the War essentially requires Chinese participation and consent irrespective of the reason (in terms of politics, military, and the international law) as the signatories of the armistice agreement in 1953 were UN Commander-in-Chief Mark W. Clark, Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army Kim Il Sung, Commander of the Chinese People’s Volunteers Peng Teh-Huai. Accordingly, it is high time to take the war-ending declaration and the establishment of a peace treaty agenda at the quadrilateral talks (two Koreas, the U.S., and China) and even seek trilateral talks separately in the North Korean nuclear issue and the economic cooperation involving the two Koreas and the U.S. on the former issue and China on the latter issue. Once the four countries (two Koreas, the U.S., and China) sign a peace treaty, Seoul should resume the six-party talks with other members for sustainable peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. With this as the foundation, it should take further steps to establish a multilateral security mechanism in Northeast Asia and to advance perpetual prosperity centered on geo-economics on the Korean Peninsula.