- Kim Jong Un offered to stop nuclear testing without requiring the US and South Korea to move their forces from the Korean Peninsula.
- This hands the US a big win in its battle for influence in the region.
- China, meanwhile, has long wanted the US military to get out of the Korean Peninsula.
- Beijing is also looking sidelined and desperate to flex its muscles in the region.
Kim Jong Un has offered to stop nuclear testing and close one of its nuclear test sites later this month, under the conditions that the US allow the Korean War to end and promise not to invade.
The announcement, which came on the heels of a historic summit between the leaders of North and South Korea last Friday, has appeared to hand the US a big win in its battle for influence in the Korean Peninsula – while also sidelining China.
Kim’s nuclear deal ignored a key Chinese proposal
Kim’s offer, announced by Seoul officials on Sunday, appeared to ignore a major tenet of a Chinese-drafted proposal for North Korean denuclearisation – the “freeze-for-freeze” initiative.
The initiative, repeatedly proposed by China and rejected by the US, calls for North Korea to stop testing its nuclear weapons in exchange for the US and South Korea to suspend their joint military exercises in the region.
The absence of the freeze-for-freeze stipulation effectively paves the way for the US to retain troops on the Korean peninsula even if North Korea denuclearises.
This is likely to rile China, which has long been threatened by the US’ military presence on the Korean Peninsula, said Elizabeth Economy, director of Asia studies at the Council of Foreign Relations and author of “The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State.”
She told Business Insider: “Beijing is committed to the eventual exit of the US military from the Korean Peninsula – and from the Asia Pacific writ large – so the willingness of Kim to meet without a first step toward a reduction in the US presence could not have made Beijing happy.”
China appears to be kept out of Korean Peninsula talks, and is looking desperate
Beijing, who previously kept away from engaging in North Korea’s nuclear talks, now runs the risks of being sidelined from future discussions about the Korean peninsula.
Indeed, officials in Seoul are already preparing for the upcoming Trump-Kim summit with a view to leave China out of the picture, the South China Morning Post reported, citing unidentified governmnet sources.
Economy said: “China is desperate to remain relevant in this process of potential denuclearisation and reunification. It was taken aback by the decision of Kim and Trump to meet and unhappy about the lack of preconditions on the North Korean side.
“It very much wants to host the meeting between Kim and Trump as a means of playing a significant role in the process and ensuring that its interests are not ignored.”
Michael Kovrig, a senior advisor at the International Crisis Group, also told The Guardian: “[Beijing] doesn’t want Washington and Pyongyang to get too close, and doesn’t want unification on purely South Korean and US terms.”
China may have given a glimpse of this desperation earlier this year, when Xi Jinping invited Kim to Beijing weeks after Trump’s surprise announcement that he would be meeting the North Korean leader.
Given China’s refusal to meet with Kim multiple times in the past, that visit was likely a bid to flex its muscles to North Korea, China expert Andrew Mertha previously told Business Insider.
Later this week China plans to send its foreign minister to Pyongyang – its highest-level visit there in years.
Economy said: “This visit likely represents an effort on the part of the Chinese to remain relevant and to ensure that Kim does not go too far off-script, for example, promising a path to denuclearisation without receiving assurances along the lines of an eventual withdrawal of US troops.
“Chinese and North Korean interests are not necessarily exactly the same; Beijing wants to ensure that its concerns are not forgotten.”
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