The big Beijing-Pyongyang connect - GulfToday

The big Beijing-Pyongyang connect

Kim Jong-Un, Xi Jinping

Kim Jong-Un, Xi Jinping

The North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) had revealed the contents of a message from Chinese President Xi Jinping, in which the Chinese leader said that China would like to work with North Korea for “peace, stability, development and prosperity of the region and the world.” This is said to be in response to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s message of congratulations to Xi after the end of China’s 20th Communist Party Congress in October. Xi’s message to Kim is seen in the context of North Korea’s latest series of missile launches including the Inter Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) on Nov 18 and Kim’s declaration that North Korea would build the strongest nuclear force to defend itself from any American threat.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) had condemned the North Korean missile tests, but China, Russia did not put their names to the statement supported by the United States, United Kingdom, France, India and 14 other countries. KCNA has also quoted Xi as saying that he was willing to collaborate with Pyongyang as “changes in the world, times and history are taking place in unprecedented ways.”

North Korea is an isolated state, with links only with China and Russia. China accounts for 90 per cent of North Korea’s trade. As it is a closed state, no information flows out from Kim-ruled North Korea, but there are clear hints that the economic conditions are strained and harsh, and there are times of famine and hunger when people slip away from North Korea into China.

But the Kim regime has been focused on building its military power, especially its missile shield to defend itself against possible attack from South Korea, a close of ally of the US, and from the US itself. North Korea had remained a defiant communist state ever since the Korean war of the early 1950s, and the armistice signed in 1953.

While other communist states, including China, former Soviet Union (now Russia), Vietnam and Cuba had international ties of one kind or other, North Korea had remained an isolated state.

There were of course the US and the UN sanctions. It was only during Donald Trump’s presidency that the American president travelled to Singapore to meet Kim, though nothing came of it.

There is however concern that a nuclear-armed North Korea posed a security threat to South Korea, Japan, and the US. The sanctions against Pyongyang have had a limited impact.

Surprisingly, during their three-hour meeting, American President Joe Biden had asked Xi to mediate with North Korea, and it might be inferred that Xi message to Kim might be a result of it. But this is unlikely. Chinese and North Korean leaders have been touch with each other. Xi’s message to Kim can be read as friendly advice from a friendly neighbour about the need for cooperation to deal with the world.

The question whether China can chaperone North Korea and bring it into world fora will remain a speculative question. But the Americans seem to feel that North Korea cannot remain an outsider and that it poses a greater danger to regional security if it treated as an enemy state by the West.

In recent years, many of the elected South Korean leaders have been making overtures to North Korea to effect a reconciliation, to let divided families unite and travel between the two Koreas made possible.

But Pyongyang would seem to hesitate because interaction with the open society of South Korea would dilute the strict control that Kim and the communist party exercise over the people in the north. Kim would want to keep North Korea a closed state because it would then be easier for the communist party there to rule the country.

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