Current Issues and Policies
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Current Issues and Policies

Kim Jong-un’s ‘New Way’ and the Fourth Kim-Xi Summit: Evaluation and Implication
2019.01.15  Tuesday
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Jae hung Chung
Kim Jong-un’s ‘New Way’ and the Fourth Kim-Xi Summit:

Evaluation and Implication



Current Issues and Policies No. 2019-03

January 15, 2018

Dr. Chung Jae Hung

Research Fellow, the Sejong Institute




Key Implications of the Fourth Kim-Xi Summit Meeting

In the wake of 2019, North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un visited Beijing on January 8 and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping for the fourth time. The biggest significance attached to this summit is that the bilateral relationship has grown ever closer as the year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. This is corroborated by the fact that Chairman Kim and President Xi met four times in a short period of 10 months since their first meeting in March last year. Moreover, this meeting symbolically revealed that the two countries have rapidly furthered their honeymoon relationship—sharing in-depth views on issues of common interest (the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, peace regime, sanctions against North Korea, economic development, etc.) with key officials in foreign policy, security, and economy present at the meeting and reaching a consensus.[i]

It is assumed that this summit dealt with responding measures regarding the upcoming second DPRK-U.S. summit - based on the close strategic communication and cooperation between North Korea and China - as the key agenda. In the New Year’s address on January 1, Chairman Kim Jong-un put forth his blueprint on the management of state affairs with the peace on the Korean Peninsula externally and economic development internally as the key elements. In the same vein, the fourth summit was aimed to serve as a sophisticated strategic initiative to raise the negotiation leverage of synchronous and phased approach in the second DPRK-U.S. summit and the denuclearization talks and to propel the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula through close cooperation and communication with China in the denuclearization process.

This was well reflected at the fourth DPRK-PRC summit; the Chinese leader underscored, ‘I laud Chairman Kim’s visit to China at the onset of the year marking the 70th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties. The two countries will seek to resolve the Korean Peninsula issue, built upon the strengthened traditional amicable bilateral relationship by succeeding and developing the relics of the leadership of the previous generation.’ In response, Chairman Kim alluded to earnest bilateral exchanges and cooperation commemorating the 70 years of bilateral diplomatic partnership, ‘welcoming the 70th anniversary of DPRK-PRC diplomatic relations, North Korea will further consolidate the conventional friendly partnership and expand and further bilateral exchanges and cooperation.’

On the denuclearization issue, the key agenda of this summit, President Xi said that ‘I highly value North Korea’s efforts to advance peace, stability, and denuclearization process on the Korean Peninsula last year; the Korean Peninsula already fostered an atmosphere suitable for peace and dialogue; and the international community has the shared expectation for a political solution to the Korean Peninsula issue through dialogue and negotiations.’ The Chinese authorities espouse North Korea’s journey to commit to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, to mend inter-Korean relations, to host the summit with the U.S. successfully, and to resolve the issues through dialogue and negotiations and accentuate the efforts to achieve denuclearization, peace, and stability on the Korean peninsula based on close DPRK-PRC cooperation and communication. In response, Chairman Kim replied, ‘I appreciate China’s active role. North Korea will stick to the means of dialogue and negotiation to resolve the issues based on the continued stance on denuclearization. I hope the issues surrounding the Korean Peninsula are resolved rapidly as the countries relevant to the issue responds proactively to North Korea’s rational concerns and interests.

Kim Jong-un already emphasized in his New Year address, “It is also needed to actively promote multi-party negotiations for replacing the current ceasefire on the Korean peninsula with a peace mechanism in close contact with the signatories to the armistice agreement so as to lay a lasting and substantial peace-keeping foundation. Based on the statement, Pyongyang seems to have set this year’s foreign policy goal as commencing the negotiations to establish a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, with the two Koreas, the U.S., and China as the interlocutors. In other words, it could be construed that the North Korean regime has an unyielding resolve not to be pushed around by U.S. demand of ‘final, fully verified denuclearization (FFVD) using China as a reliable patron and stakeholder and make the U.S. begin negotiations on the establishment of the peace regime and full suspension of the ROK-U.S. joint war games. Therefore, Kim’s trip to China this time was aimed at strategic communication and coordination on extensive and a wide range of issues such as the establishment of a peace regime with China in it or multilateral negotiation mechanism (quadrilateral or six-party), the ROK-U.S. joint military exercises, U.S. strategic assets, United Nations Command, and U.S. Forces in Korea.[ii]

As such, the fourth Kim-Xi meeting, boasting a closer and consolidated bilateral relations than the precedent summit, manifested the two Northeast Asian countries’ strategic determination to elevate the bilateral relations to a level resembling the Kim Il-sung-Mao Zedong times as China re-emerged as North Korea’s strong patron. Moreover, China’s move to deepen ties with North Korea, an ally necessary amid the full-scale trade war with the U.S., entails the strategic intention to nullify the U.S. strategy of containment against China—expanding influence in the region. Thus, the two countries, with the emphasis on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, will cling on to the phased and synchronized approach to the denuclearization issue based on the ‘suspension-for-suspension’ and ‘dual track’ approaches—North Korea halting nuclear and missile tests and South Korea and the U.S. halting joint military exercises and pursuing denuclearization and the peace process in parallel. Likewise, Beijing may maintain, together with Pyongyang and Moscow, that it is necessary to discuss extensively on the establishment of the peace regime, ROK-U.S. joint military exercises, and U.S. deployment of strategic assets when the denuclearization process kicks off in earnest after the second Kim-Trump summit.


What Does Kim Jong-un’s ‘New Way’ Mean?

The summit relatively illuminated the phrase ‘new way’ mentioned in Kim Jong-un’s New Year address on the first day of 2019. That is, North Korea’s ‘new way’ refers to the possibility that North Korea will resolve the looming security and economy issue and establish a new order surrounding the Korean Peninsula with China, and even South Korea only, through emboldening the relationship with China to a level of former alliance, when the U.S. refuses the ‘dual track (phased and synchronized) approach’ that both North Korea and China proposed. Especially, taking the 70th anniversary of bilateral relations as the turning point, the two countries are ardently willing to use the summit as an occasion to terminate the existing Cold War order on the Korean Peninsula through ‘a new DPRK-PRC relationship at a new era’ and to pursue a new order on the peninsula led by the two countries. This will impel bilateral cooperation in various fields, not to mention economic exchanges.

In the meantime, as the North Korean leader elucidated that he highly regards China’s experience of economic development and hopes to visit China more frequently to see China’s economic development with his own eyes, China’s influence on North Korea is likely to expand further. On June 12 last year Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang said in the regular press conference, “China always believes that sanction itself is not the end, and the Security Council’s actions should support and conform to the diplomatic dialogue and the endeavour for the denuclearization of the Peninsula at this point, and promote the political settlement of the Peninsula issue.” Furthermore, Kim Jong-un expressed his fervent determination to build the economy and improve people’s livelihood in this New Year address; hence, the two countries, as the bilateral relations enter the 70th anniversary, is likely to discuss bilateral economic cooperation and new, large-scale investment projects.

Nowadays, China’s pundits on Korean Peninsula began to highlight the measures to respond to the era of new DPRK-China relations followed by the great transformation of the Korean peninsula while extricating from the previous Cold War mindset swiftly. China senses that North Korea already has shifted from the byungjin line of parallel economic and nuclear development to an economy-first orientation and Chairman Kim’s policy focuses on improving people’s quality of life through uninterrupted economic development—striving to be North Korea’s Deng Xiaoping. Thus, China believes that it should have closer cooperation and coordination to ease sanctions and develop the economy. Accordingly, when the second DPRK-U.S. summit kicks off the denuclearization process, DPRK-China, inter-Korean, ROK-DPRK-China trilateral, and ROK-DPRK-China-Russia quadrilateral economic cooperation will commence in earnest. Moreover, the East Asia Railroad Community project, pursued by the incumbent South Korean administration, could be expected to have synergic effects for economic co-prosperity when linked with trans-China Railroad (TCR) through peaceful climate not limited to the Korean Peninsula but Northeast Asia as a whole.  


Strategic Implications for South Korea

Kim Jong-un’s fourth visit to China in the 70th year of DPRK-PRC diplomatic relations has major implications and strategic connotations. Chairman Kim has established a new ground for bilateral relations through the summit and is poised to step up to the second summit with President Trump with the staunch patron, China at the back. In return, Beijing attenuated its anxiety of so-called ‘China passing (neglecting China in Korean Peninsular affairs)’ through the strengthened strategic communications with Pyongyang. For example, if the forthcoming second DPRK-U.S. summit does not take place, North Korea could actively respond to the international pressure through close strategic cooperation and communication with China. On the contrary, should the summit actually occur and North Korea and the U.S. agree on the denuclearization process, China is predicted to engage energetically with North Korea in economic cooperation, investment, and people-to-people exchanges. Establishing a new relationship with North Korea is especially related to the mid-to-long term foreign strategy to achieve the two centenary goals of the Xi Jinping leadership—‘the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and the Chinese dream’ by 2049.

It was clear that China approaches its deepening relations with North Korea as part of the hegemonic competition with the U.S.—and not confined to the Korean Peninsular affairs—when strategist Wang Huning, a Politburo member nicknamed as ‘China’s Henry Kissinger’ attended the summit meeting. In the end, North Korea and China agreed to strengthen strategic communication and cooperation with the meaning that North Korea and China assumedly intend to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue through ‘dual track’ approach and ‘action-for-action’ principle. It is congruous with the details included in the September 19 Joint Statement—proceeding with both North Korea’s steps of denuclearization and concessions in economy and security “in a phased manner in line with the principle of ‘commitment for commitment, action for action’”. After the DPRK-China summit, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang indirectly stressed the importance and necessity of close alignment and cooperation between the two sides, “China maintains that it is very useful for the DPRK and the US as key parties to the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue to maintain contacts. … China is and will always be a positive factor.”

Recently, the Chinese state-run media and prominent Chinese experts on Korean Peninsula argue that the U.S. primarily needs to build confidence gradually with North Korea through easing or lifting sanctions as North Korea took several actions: expressing its firm commitment to denuclearization, suspending nuclear and missile tests, shutting down Dongchang-ri missile test site and Punggye-ri nuclear test site, and underlining the resolution to the Korean Peninsula issues through dialogue and peaceful means. Beijing especially perceives that the hostile confrontation between North Korea and the U.S. fundamentally underpins the North Korean nuclear issue; hence, the North Korean nuclear will not be easily resolved without the establishment of a peace regime on the peninsula. Additionally, because Chairman Kim highlighted the necessity of economic development and improvement of people’s livelihood through a firm commitment to denuclearization, China views that it can no longer comply with the U.S.-led excessive sanctions against North Korea. Eventually, it is time to prepare more balanced/rational and painstaking measures since the zero-sum approach to the North Korean nuclear issue without any consideration of guaranteeing North Korea’s regime security—as Pyongyang emphasized—is bound to fail.

At the impending second DPRK-U.S. summit on the North Korean nuclear issue, North Korea will probably put forth suspension of nuclear and missile tests, demolition of Punggye-ri nuclear test site, disestablishment of Dongchang-ri missile test site, shutdown of Yongbyon nuclear facilities, etc. and request corresponding measures such as easing sanctions and initiating talks on establishing a peace regime on the Korean peninsula to the U.S. If President Trump adheres to the proposal that the final, fully verified denuclearization (FFVD) should proceed before any measures from the U.S., North Korea will decline without hesitation.

In addition, the Xi Jinping leadership vows to keep hold of North Korea’s geopolitical value given the turbulence in the regional environment caused by the U.S.-China hegemonic rivalry. It already agreed to deepen strategic communication and economic cooperation with North Korea, marking the 70th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations. Consequently, South Korea should enhance strategic communication and cooperation with China while furthering the progress in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of a peace regime on the peninsula.




This article is based on the author’s personal opinion and does not reflect the views of the Sejong Institute.


*Translator’s note: This is an unofficial translation of the original paper which was written in Korean. All references should be made to the original paper.



[i] For Kim Jong-un’s this visit to China, Kim Yo-jong (Kim Jong-un’s sister and first vice director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea [WPKCC]), Kim Yong-chol (WPKCC Vice-Chairman and minister of WPK United Front Department), Ri Su-yong (WPKCC Vice-Chairman responsible for foreign affairs, Pak Thae-song (WPKCC Vice-Chairman responsible for science and education), Ri Yong-ho (minister of Foreign Affairs) No Kwang-chol (minister of the People's Armed Forces) accompanied Chairman Kim Jong-un. In the Chinese side, Wang Huning (member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau), Ding Xuexiang (director of General Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China [CPCCC]), Yang Jiechi (member of the Political Bureau of the CPCCC), Wang Yi (Chinese foreign minister), Song Tao (head of the International Liaison Department of the CPC Central Committee) attended the summit meeting with President Xi.

[ii] Regarding this summit, North Korean media reported, the top leaders of the two parties and two countries had an in-depth and candid exchange of views over the issue of further boosting the friendship and unity, exchange and cooperation between the two parties and the two countries as required by the times and over the international and regional issues of mutual concern, the joint study and coordination of the management of the situation of the Korean peninsula and the denuclearization negotiation”. Hence, it is likely that North Korea will take the phased and synchronous approach to all pending issues surrounding the Korean Peninsula with intimate strategic communication with China.