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Xi goes on the road

June 19,2019
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to North Korea, scheduled for Thursday and Friday, offers a glimmer of hope for the resumption of the suspended peace process on the Korean Peninsula. Despite the sudden announcement of his state visit, Xi’s trip to Pyongyang was eagerly anticipated. Even though North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited China four times from March last year to January this year for summits with Xi, the Chinese leader did not make a return visit. Given Xi’s visit to Seoul in 2014, his trip to Pyongyang was just a matter of time. His visit carries great significance because he goes to Pyongyang for the first time after becoming China’s president — and will be the first visit of the leader of China and its Communist Party since former leader Hu Jintao’s trip to North Korea in 2005.

What attracts our particular attention is whether his visit will offer a turning point in the deadlocked denuclearization talks between South and North Korea and between the United States and North Korea. As China holds the key to the survival of the Kim Jong-un regime, success of the international sanctions depends on China. Xi’s visit also reflects his intention to show off China’s influence on its ally.
Though not much time is left until his trip to Pyongyang, the Moon Jae-in administration must do its best to draw support from Xi by using all available channels to address the North Korean nuclear threat. It must persuade Beijing to convince Pyongyang of the need to take pre-emptive actions to denuclearize. A Blue House spokesperson said the government expects Xi’s visit to contribute to the settlement of a permanent peace regime on the peninsula through the earliest-possible resumption of the denuclearization talks.

Some security analysts wondered whether Xi would visit Seoul after Pyongyang. But the Blue House spokeswoman said Xi is not scheduled to visit Seoul before or after the June 28 to 29 Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Osaka, Japan. Instead, both leaders agreed in principle to have a bilateral summit in Osaka on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, she said.

There are many pending issues between Seoul and Beijing. Above all, South Korea is being pressured to choose between the United States and China in their trade war. As U.S. President Donald Trump’s trip to Seoul was fixed at the end of this month, the Moon administration needs to invite Xi here to tackle a plethora of challenges between the two countries. Though Xi’s trip to Seoul is not yet fixed, the government must do its best to hold a summit between Moon and Xi to address the problems.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 18, Page 30