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Kim to Xi: No China passing if aid comes

July 04,2018
During his summit with the Chinese president last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un promised Xi Jinping that he would not bypass Beijing during talks with the United States and asked China to provide economic aid in return, multiple sources with knowledge of the meeting exclusively told the JoongAng Ilbo on Monday.

The conversation took place while Kim was visiting Beijing on June 19 and 20, one week after his landmark summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. It was Kim’s third known meeting with Xi.

North Korean state media reported that Xi expressed “sincere support” for the North’s stance on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and vowed to play a “constructive role” in the process. Kim reportedly thanked Xi for helping him with his summit with Trump and said he was pleased with the “recently strengthened strategic cooperation” between China and the North.

But the conversation apparently went deeper than that.

According to one source who spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo on the condition of anonymity, Kim told Xi that North Korea would “strategically communicate” with China before reaching any deal with the United States, but stressed that China would have to provide North Korea with aid throughout the process.

In response, according to the source, Xi said it would not be easy to support the North with ongoing sanctions against the regime, but he would try to work around them through humanitarian cooperation, which is usually exempt from sanctions.

Kim wanted assurance that the United States would ease sanctions against the North and try to normalize relations with Pyongyang when he held a summit with Trump in Singapore last month, another source told the JoongAng Ilbo. But Kim did not receive that impression, which is why he asked Xi for a third summit in Beijing.

The discussions between Xi and Kim are another indicator that Kim is seeking economic support, security assurances and political backing from Xi as leverage against the United States. China, meanwhile, is trying to shore up its role in meetings between Pyongyang and Washington and exert influence on peninsular affairs. Analysts say Beijing would also like to remind Washington of its role in Asian affairs as a trade war develops between the two countries.

China is North Korea’s strongest trading partner, but bilateral relations soured last year after Beijing joined international sanctions against the country. The Trump administration has vowed to keep trade embargoes in place until North Korea denuclearizes. On June 22, the White House announced that it would maintain six executive orders against the North for one year and said North Korea’s actions, policies and fissile material for weapons “continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat” to the United States.

Beijing and Pyongyang, though, seem to be growing chummier even as North Korea kicked off meetings with U.S. officials on Sunday to flesh out an agreement signed by Kim and Trump at their summit.

Japanese broadcaster NHK reported that Ku Bon-tae, North Korea’s vice minister of external economic affairs, led a delegation to Beijing on Monday. Neither North Korean nor Chinese media confirmed the report, but such a visit raises the prospect of economic talks between the two countries.

Pak Thae-song, a vice chairman of North Korea’s Central Committee within the Workers’ Party, led a delegation of senior officials from the party to Beijing on May 14 for a 10-day trip to study China’s economic development model.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]