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A Chinese road map

June 20,2018
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un traveled to China Tuesday to meet President Xi Jinping. That’s his third meeting with Xi since March. Given the history of North Korea-China summit diplomacy, that is very rare. Surprisingly, the Chinese media reported on Kim’s visit less than an hour after his arrival in Beijing. In the past, they reported a North Korean leader’s trip to China after he returned home. The real question, however, is why Kim had to go to China again after such a short period of time.

Some pundits suggest a need for Kim to thank Xi for lending an aircraft for his Singapore summit with U.S. President Donald Trump and to explain what was discussed with Trump. Others link it to Kim’s need to request China to ease sanctions on his nation. Concerns are growing over Beijing weakening its sanctions, as seen in its resumption of passenger flights to Pyongyang and group travel packages to North Korea, as well as China’s increased employment of North Korean workers.

But there are even more important aspects to consider. Kim’s first and second trip to China took place shortly before U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trips to North Korea — three days before and one day before, respectively. As Pompeo plans to visit North Korea as early as this week, Kim’s trip to China could be linked to the need to consult on a list of demands by Pompeo.

The denuclearization process seems to be following a Chinese road map. South Korea and the United States announced Tuesday they will suspend their joint Ulchi Freedom Guardian drill this year as if to accommodate China’s persistent demand for halting their annual military exercises in return for Pyongyang stopping its nuclear and missile tests. The decision by Seoul and Washington brings one of the core mechanisms of the alliance to a halt. Pompeo also relayed Trump’s determination to convert the existing Korean War truce into a peace treaty in exchange for complete denuclearization. That’s also in line with China’s demand for a simultaneous pursuit of denuclearization and negotiations for a peace regime.

The ball is in North Korea’s court. Kim must put his promise of complete denuclearization into action. If he dilly-dallies, his sincerity will be questioned. China must not ease up on sanctions to weaken Kim’s will to denuclearize. We hope Kim makes a landmark decision in China.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 20, Page 30