China calls on US, NK to show political courage


People watch a television news report showing images of US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a railway station in Seoul on Friday. Trump agreed on Thursday to a historic meeting with Kim in a stunning development in the US' high-stakes nuclear standoff with North Korea. Photo: AFP

China said it welcomes a meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, urging them to show "political courage" to reduce tensions, and analysts said China's role is irreplaceable for the current achievement and future development of the Korean Peninsula issue.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told his US counterpart Donald Trump via phone on Friday that he hopes the US and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) will start dialogue as soon as possible and strive for positive results, the Xinhua News Agency reported Friday.

Trump said in the phone call the facts prove that Xi's firm encouragement that the US should talk with North Korea is correct, and the US highly appreciates and values China's significant role on the peninsula issue, and the US would like to continue closely coordinating and communicating with China, CCTV reported.

China always encourages talks between the US and North Korea, and it has made real efforts to mediate the situation and firmly support denuclearization of the peninsula, even making economic sacrifices to fulfill UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea, so China's role is irreplaceable in the positive change, said Cheng Xiaohe, a professor with the School of International Studies of Renmin University of China.

Chung Eui-yong, chief of South Korea's National Security Office, spoke after his meeting with Trump on Friday at the White House, announcing that Trump is ready to meet with Kim Jong-un by May, Reuters reported.

"We welcome this positive information released by the US and the DPRK. We give our full recognition and support to the relevant parties for their efforts on solving problems through dialogue," Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said at a daily press conference in Beijing on Friday.

"We hope that all parties involved in the issue can demonstrate political courage and make the right decisions," Geng said.

Kim had "committed to denuclearization" and to suspending nuclear and missile tests, Chung announced.

North Korea has virtually realized its part in China's "suspension for suspension" proposal, Cheng at the Renmin University of China said. "With the development of the situation, US-South Korea joint military exercises could be reduced or frozen as well."

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also discussed the matter in a phone call with Trump on Friday and Abe will fly to the US next month to further discuss the issue with the US, the Kyodo News reported.

Japan and the US "will continue to put maximum pressure on North Korea until it takes concrete actions toward the complete, verifiable and irreversible abandonment of its nuclear [weapons] and missiles," Abe told reporters after the phone call.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that "we consider it to be a step in the right direction. Hopefully, the agreement will be implemented."

China's irreplaceable role

At this crucial time, China will not be absent from the upcoming event which will change the strategic structure of Northeast Asia, and China is unlikely to make any adjustments on its sanctions before the UN Security Council makes any new resolution, Cheng said. "In order to realize negotiations, the sanctions should remain, the US needs China's support on this."

North Korea's conditions for denuclearization, such as the security of the regime and economic compensation, will not be realized without China's participation and cooperation, Cheng noted.

However, concerns that China's interests might be sacrificed by the US and North Korea also surfaced.

China will be "marginalized" by the Trump-Kim summit, Zheng Yongnian, director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, said in an article published online.

"China won't be betrayed easily, because China's influence is unique," Cheng said. "If the situation moves into denuclearization, China will become a key supervisor; if the UN Security Council needs to make any new resolution to reduce pressure on North Korea, China's role, as a permanent member of the security council, is also essential for both the US and North Korea.

"North Korea will surely need foreign support for its economic development if it fixes its ties with the outside world after denuclearization, and China's assistance would also be crucial," he said.

Therefore, China will reinforce the current positive change, Cheng noted. "The possibility of betraying China cannot be ruled out, but China's power and influence is real, so any move that damages China will lead to serious consequences."

Cautious optimism

Although the world was surprised by the dramatic change over the peninsula crisis, further development remains uncertain, said An Gang, a senior research fellow at the Pangoal Institution, a Beijing-based think tank.

Trump's political priority, in fact, is domestic affairs, and especially this year with mid-term elections approaching, An said. "His actions will largely impact on the domestic front."

"Trump would like to let others believe that the current change is based on his tough policy on North Korea, and use it to gain domestic support and strike his opponents, so sanctions will not be reduced, and maybe further increased. Kim's promise is not enough, and Trump wants real actions," An said.



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