Chinese President Xi Jinping calls for US and North Korean leaders to hold third nuclear summit

Lee Jeong-ho

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called on the leaders of the United States and North Korea to have a third summit, and show flexibility in resolving the Korean peninsula nuclear issues, following his unprecedented state visit to Pyongyang last week.

In talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Osaka, Japan, ahead of the Group of 20 summit, Xi said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s determination to denuclearise remained solid, and Beijing was still committed to political engagement over the future of the peninsula.

The meeting with Moon came about a week after Xi made his first official visit to Pyongyang, where he pledged to support North Korea in its security and development needs.

“The trend for resolving the Korean peninsula situation through dialogue has not changed,” Xi was quoted by state-run China Central Television as saying on Thursday.

“We should extend our efforts to promote dialogue and work together. China supports the leaders of North Korea and the US to have a new round of dialogue. We hope both sides will show flexibility and push for progress for dialogue.”

Ko Min-jung, spokeswoman for the South Korean Presidential Office, said that during the meeting Xi told Moon that Kim was committed to giving up North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.

“[Kim] is trying to promote [North Korea’s] economic development and improve living standards through the country’s new strategic route. He also hopes to improve the external environment,” Ko quoted Xi as saying.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a mass gymnastic performance at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea, last week. Photo: Xinhua
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a mass gymnastic performance at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea, last week. Photo: Xinhua

China has been the North’s biggest security guarantee since the Korean war in the 1950s. The Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty, signed in Beijing in 1961, ensures Chinese military intervention if North Korea is “subjected to armed attack by any state or several states jointly and thus being involved in a state of war”.

Moon said Beijing was playing a “constructive role” in efforts towards the “complete denuclearisation and the settlement of permanent peace” on the peninsula.

He said the Xi-Kim summit – along with the recent exchanges of letters between Pyongyang and Washington – had built momentum for the peace process.

US and North Korea in behind-the-scenes talks over third summit, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in says

But Pyongyang also told Seoul on Thursday to “stay away” from its talks with Washington.

Kwon Jong-gun, chief of the North Korean foreign ministry’s US affairs department, said the North would “never go through” South Korea again in dealing with the US.

Boo Seung-chan, an adjunct professor at the Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Seoul would welcome Beijing as a mediator on the peninsula, saying it could help break the deadlock between Washington and Pyongyang.

Nuclear talks between the US and North Korea ground to a halt in February with the collapse of the second summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Hanoi.

But Zhang Baohui, director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, said that in the end there was a limit to what Beijing could do.

“No third party can be a meaningful mediator in this case. Whether North Korea will eventually proceed with denuclearisation depends entirely on its bilateral negotiations with the US. The two alone decide outcomes and neither Beijing nor Seoul can make significant differences,” Zhang said.

“Beijing’s ability to shape North Korea’s strategic decisions is limited, as proven repeatedly by history. Ultimately, denuclearisation depends on the outcome of trust building between North Korea and the US, [not Beijing and Seoul].”

Chinese President Xi Jinping promises to play ‘positive’ role in helping North Korea denuclearise

Also at the meeting on Thursday, Xi and Moon agreed to discuss Xi’s visit to Seoul via diplomatic channels.

But Seoul’s deployment of a US-led anti-missile system known as THAAD remained a thorny issue. Xi urged Moon to review ways to resolve the THAAD issue, which Beijing deems as a security threat. But Moon said denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula should come first.

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