North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will be asking Chinese President Xi Jinping for help to mediate the current nuclear deadlock between Pyongyang and Washington, high-profile North Korea defector Thae Yong Ho said in Tokyo yesterday.
Mr Thae, who was the North's deputy ambassador to Britain when he defected in 2016 with his wife and two sons, told a news conference that he saw Mr Xi's visit as part of a new grand strategy by Mr Kim after his failed summit with US President Donald Trump in Hanoi.
Mr Xi and Mr Trump will sit down for an extended meeting in Osaka next week on the sidelines of the Group of 20 leaders' summit, primarily to work out their differences on trade, but with North Korea likely to be high on the agenda.
"Kim is trying to use Xi's visit to deliver his new approach to the US side," said Mr Thae, who was here on a book tour to promote the Japanese release of Cryptography From The Third-Floor Secretariat that was first published in Korean last year.
"Xi may deliver this new offer directly to Trump, and it will be up to Trump to decide whether or not he would accept this new proposal."
At the heart of the impasse is how far Pyongyang should go in giving up its nuclear facilities before Washington begins to lift sanctions.
Mr Thae posited that Mr Kim might try to pull the wool over Mr Trump's eyes by focusing his attention on the matter of the five nuclear uranium enrichment facilities that Mr Trump had raised at their summit in February - so as to avoid any discussion on the stock of nuclear material and ballistic missiles already in the North's possession.
"If Kim succeeds in convincing Trump to make a deal on past nuclear facilities and succeeds in keeping the current nuclear missiles, then it will mean to North Korea that it can be accepted as a new nuclear state in the region," he said.
During the wide-ranging news conference, Mr Thae said that three principles have been ingrained in North Korean diplomats by the Kim regime for decades: The US will not attack North Korea given the human cost involved, China will never give up on North Korea regardless of what it does, and regardless of the incentives offered, North Korea will not give up nuclear weapons.
Achieving the legitimacy of being a nuclear state has been the basis of Mr Kim's recent diplomatic push, said Mr Thae, who called for the current sanctions regime to be tightened further.
"While the sanctions are creating a lot of difficulties, (they) will not be enough to force him to give up his nuclear programme," he said.
He called it a paradox that Mr Kim seems to be rewarded for not conducting any nuclear or long-range missile tests with no further sanctions, although the missiles are still operational.
On this point, he also accused China and Russia of "playing games" with United Nations sanctions by finding loopholes that allow them to channel funds to prop up Mr Kim's regime.
A moratorium on nuclear or ballistic missile tests also suits China, Mr Thae said, as Beijing can then argue for Washington to not conduct any joint military exercises or impose any more sanctions.
Separately, Mr Thae said he does not see Mr Kim and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meeting any time soon.
Mr Abe, a North Korea hawk until recently, has offered to meet Mr Kim without any preconditions to seek a breakthrough to the longstanding abductions issue.
Mr Thae said North Korea expects Japan to show its sincerity in implementing the 2002 Pyongyang Declaration calling for the early normalisation of ties to unlock economic aid.
"The question is how much and what and when Mr Abe can deliver to make that summit happen."
Mr Thae said Mr Kim's primal fear was not that of external regime change but of internal regime collapse, which he sees as possible in North Korea's march towards capitalism, given the rising numbers of free markets where citizens are openly selling products from the South.
"The younger generation do not have any loyalty to the North Korean Juche ideology," he said, given that their foremost concerns are to make ends meet and put food on the table. Juche refers to the state communist philosophy that emphasises political, economic and military self-reliance.
"If Kim Jong Un cannot prevent the inflow of outside information, like South Korean movies or dramas, then one day North Korea's system can collapse," he said.