Just like Russia seems to be holding the key as an arbitrator between warring parties like Iran and Israel in Syria , China is playing an important background role to get North Korea reach a successful outcome with the USA .
The objective of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s hurried last minute trip to Pyongyang was to lay the groundwork for a successful historic summit between the US and North Korean leaders that will be held in Singapore on 12 June, marked by the release of three US hostages held by the North Korean regime. But there was more behind the showcase hostage release tv drama, as the White House also timed Pompeo’s trip to ensure that upcoming nuclear negotiations with North Korea would not be derailed by President Donald Trump’s controversial decision yesterday to withdraw completely from the 2015 JCPOA nuclear accord with Iran.
Despite what is likely to be a prolonged and contentious fallout now between the US and key allies over Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA accord and re-imposition of sanctions on Iran, all the major parties to the North Korea talks are ready to proceed as planned with the summit and negotiations over the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and it is here that China’s critical role has come into play.
At a two-day meeting hosted in Dalian, in northeast China’s Liaoning Province, China’s President Xi Jinping assured North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un that the Iranian nuclear issue was different from the Korean nuclear issue. Xi assured Kim that were the US to cancel or suspend an agreement with North Korea, under any pretext, China would firmly support and stand with North Korea. In a way, that means China would ultimately backstop the DPRK’s nuclear program.
In their discussions, Kim stressed that the US must work with his country to take “phased and synchronous measures,” in a responsible manner, to eventually achieve denuclearization and lasting peace on the peninsula, and Xi agreed. While President Trump has stated that he hopes for a “ great outcome “ , but that he can also walk out if no immediate denuclearisation is achieved , Kim has also stressed that if Trump were to refuse to abide by the “phased and synchronous” roadmap, talks would fail.
Xi assured him he would persuade the US President to do so putting China in a position to inform the US accordingly, as many commentators are pointing out that the summit has been hurriedly set up with little planning from the US side except demanding a total denuclearisation of North Korea.
From all accounts following the historic meeting between the two Korean leaders and Kim’s meetings with the US officials, and with the Chinese leadership, he has stressed that it has been his consistent and clear desire and stance all along to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
However, this will not be a one-way street. So long as relevant parties agreed to abolish their hostile policies and remove security threats against the North Korea, there would be no need for North Korea to be a nuclear state, and denuclearization could be realized, but that any roadmap for de-escalation with the US would have to be “phased” and “synchronous.”
China’s support becomes critical and in addition to coordinating positions on the upcoming nuclear summit and the impact on North Korea of Iran, Kim and Xi discussed the North Koreas “open policy” and cooperation between the two countries on the economic and trade fronts.
The Chinese have reconfirmed China’s support for the North Korea, and for Kim’s efforts to shift strategic focus on economic construction, promising that China would surely be the biggest investor in North Korea in the future. In conclusion, the forthcoming Singapore summit is not only going to be of huge importance for a domestically embattled US President, and an economically isolated and sanctioned North Korean leader, but also important for the Chinese leadership that would like to resolve this potential flash point problem nearer to home so as to concentrate on the wider and looming trade war with the USA.
Dr. Mohamed Ramady is an energy economist and geo political expert on the GCC and former Professor at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and co-author of ‘OPEC in a post-Shale world – where to next ?’ His latest book is on ‘Saudi Aramco 2030: Post IPO challenges’.
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