On March 6, 2018, Kim Jong-un announced his agreement to hold North Korea’s denuclearization talks with President Trump. This is an added feather to President Trump’s cap, as he has been pressuring North Korea to shut down its nuclear weapons facility. At the same time, much has been said about China’s role in the making of a nuclear North Korea. Reports suggest that China is strongly behind North Korea’s nuclear weapons program with a significant say in the matter. Can China persuade North Korea to give up their nuclear weapons? More so, to what extent will it?
A cooperative North Korea?
Kim Jong-un has stated that North Korea will be committed to holding denuclearization talks with the U.S. if the safety of its regime is guaranteed and if all military threats against North Korea are retrieved. They have also promised to hold off any missile testing during the talks in light of the discussion, especially, since its nuclear weapons testing in 2017 resulted in tensions between the two.
Kim Jong-un’s unofficial meeting with China’s President Xi took place amid a lot of speculation, after which China, too, confirmed North Korea’s intent to hold the talks. Kim has also stated that the nuclear problem can be solved if the U.S. and South Korea respond to North Korea’s goodwill accordingly, thereby, placing the onus of creating a stable and peaceful Korean peninsula on South Korea and the U.S.
Previous talks with North Korea on this subject have failed largely because of Kim’s predecessors’ demands that the U.S. withdrawal from South Korea wasn’t met. As such, many are still uncertain whether Kim will remain true to his commitments.
The Chinese angle
Many Chinese companies, state-owned too, have had sanctions imposed on them by the U.S., as per the Nonproliferation Act, for aiding North Korea in building its nuclear arsenal. Additionally, China has been accused of supporting North Korea’s behavior with the U.S. China remains North Korea’s political and economic ally. In fact, more than 90 percent of North Korea’s trade is with China. China has also resisted fully enforcing any sanctions and actions taken against North Korea, especially with regard to its trade relations. As a result, China certainly has a strong hold over North Korea’s economy and can have a significant say in its political agenda. However, China refuses to take responsibility for the same.
Reports also suggest that China has another angle altogether. They believe that it’s in the best interest of China to keep North Korea in its infamous limelight to keep a check on U.S. influence over South Korea and Taiwan. China is also accused of using North Korea as a “strategic buffer” against South Korea and the U.S., and that it won’t actively allow for the fall of the North Korean regime. Reasons include a possible refugee crisis, regional instability, a U.S. strategic victory in the region, and the threat of a rising international interest in China’s internal matters once the North Korea problem is resolved.
Some reports even suggest that although China has the ability to persuade North Korea to give up their nuclear weapons, they are not doing much about it. China didn’t entirely enforce or find a way around the sanctions imposed by the UN on North Korea in 2016. However, since the U.S. administration has increasingly put China on the front seat of his North Korea agenda, China’s move on the issue is being closely observed by all.
The U.S.’s increasing presence in the Korean peninsula, too, has made China wary of losing its dominance in the region. China is certainly not fond of a possible U.S. militarization in South Korea following the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system. This has put China well under pressure to stay in control of the region, and China continues to push the narrative that it’s important for all four countries to be involved in these talks.
Ultimately, it is just as crucial for China, as for the rest of the world, to have control over a nuclear North Korea. If things get out of hand, it’s important to remember that a nuclear catastrophe sees no borders.