Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to North Korea on Thursday and Friday is undoubtedly of momentous significance. This is the first visit to North Korea by China’s top leader in 14 years.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has visited China four times in the past one and half years, and reached a series of important consensus with Xi on bilateral relations and the situation on the Korean Peninsula. As 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of China and North Korea’s diplomatic ties, Xi’s visit is not only a proactive response to Pyongyang’s initiative to mend fences between the two countries, but also a great opportunity to improve relations and to shoulder responsibility on the peninsula issue.
The second Kim-Trump summit held in February ended without an agreement, and the issue of denuclearization on the peninsula was caught in a logjam. Washington’s uncooperative approach makes Pyongyang feel worried. President Xi’s visit to North Korea can be regarded as coming at the right time.
North Korean mainstream media including state newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Wednesday published a signed article by Xi. The article states the purpose of Xi’s visit – to endow China-North Korea “traditional friendship with new connotation,” to “inject new impetus into the development of bilateral relations” and to “make new progress in securing regional peace and stability.” If these goals can be achieved, China-North Korea relations will enter a new era.
China-North Korea relations will see traditional friendship going beyond the nuclear issue. China will keep following its principled stance of helping achieve denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and opposing North Korea’s nuclear plan. China will also emphasize that relations go beyond the nuclear issue, which is a multilateral dispute involving regional security.
Given that North Korea has halted nuclear tests, unless premeditated provocations or malicious interventions by external forces take place, turmoil on the peninsula can be controlled.
In this context, China-North Korea relations confined to the nuclear issue will become history. And traditional friendship will still be the cornerstone of ties.
Moreover, economic and trade cooperation will comprehensively strengthen bilateral ties and communications.
Based on strong economic complementarities and geographical advantages, there is enormous potential for future economic and trade cooperation between the two countries. China is currently implementing UN sanctions against North Korea. President Xi’s visit may not immediately open up new prospects for economic and trade cooperation. But China will be better understanding Pyongyang’s shift of strategic focus and socialist development with North Korean characteristics.
At this stage, China can provide North Korea the historical experience of reform and opening-up as well as governing the party and country; China can also help train talent and officials who can help North Korea develop its economy and maintain social stability.
In addition, cooperation between China and North Korea in education, culture, sports, tourism, youth activities and people’s livelihood will usher in a new hope.
Good political relations and close economic ties will reduce the psychological distance between Chinese and North Korean people, and the historical memory of fraternal relations between the two nations will be revived. There will be an opportunity for China to demonstrate its achievements in socialist development to the North Korean people. China will be the most important window and stage for the North Korean people to understand the world and go global. In the near future, more North Korean students will study in China, and more Chinese people will go to North Korea to experience different customs and cultures.
Last but not the least, China and North Korea will be on the same page on security issues, which involve security of the two countries and the Korean Peninsula as well as of Northeast Asia and the world. Beijing and Pyongyang will maintain free exchange of views on the Korean Peninsula issue, regional security and major international issues via high-level visits.
China-North Korea relations in the new era are based on equality, mutual assistance and respect. China didn’t and won’t intervene in the choice of North Korea. For China, it is a priority to help North Korea get rid of isolation and poverty. Only in this way can Sino-North Korean traditional friendship get stronger and create conditions for resolving the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue.
The author is professor and director of the School of International Politics, Institute of Politics and Public Management, Yanbian University. email@example.com