Not in China's interest to sabotage meeting, say analysts

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping having tea in the Chinese city of Dalian on May 8. US President Donald Trump suggested Mr Kim adopted a harder stance after the meeting.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping having tea in the Chinese city of Dalian on May 8. US President Donald Trump suggested Mr Kim adopted a harder stance after the meeting. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Both Chinese officials and analysts have dismissed the notion that China had a role to play in North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's hardening of his position towards his meeting with United States President Donald Trump.

This, they say, was particularly as China would benefit from a successful summit between the two leaders that was due to take place in Singapore on June 12.

"We do not have any ulterior motives," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular press briefing yesterday, when asked about Mr Trump's suggestion that Mr Kim had toughened his attitude following his second meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month.

Mr Lu added that China had been consistent in its position on the Korean peninsula nuclear issue, which was that it should be resolved through dialogue and negotiation.

Professor Shi Yinhong of Renmin University called Mr Trump's claims of Chinese influence "nonsense", saying that wrecking the summit would only hurt Chinese interests as it would escalate tension on the peninsula.

Agreeing, Professor Su Hao of the China Foreign Affairs University said it was China's fundamental principle to have a denuclearised Korean peninsula.

"This is important to China's security," he added.

Another reason China would have wanted the summit to take place - and succeed - is its long-term goal for North Korea.

The success of the summit would help improve the relationship between North Korea and the US, said Mr Zhao Tong, a North Korea expert from the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy.

This would in turn make it easier for China to help North Korea transform from an isolated pariah state into a normal one that is plugged into the world, he added.

Mr Zhao explained that the root cause of North Korea's nuclear ambition was its paranoia and insecurity, which were a result of its isolation that led it to misunderstand Western intentions.

However, Western analysts hold a slightly different view of China.

Ms Bonnie Glaser of US think-tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies told Agence France-Presse that Mr Xi might have told Mr Kim to put suspension of US-South Korea military exercises, a Chinese proposal, back on the table.

She added that Mr Xi might be trying to steer the summit in a direction advantageous to the Chinese, or at least did them no harm.

If the summit remains cancelled, it would put China in a harder position than before, said Mr Zhao. This is because North Korea would be asking for improved bilateral economic relations with China while, at the same time, the US would want China to continue with sanctions as part of Washington's maximum pressure strategy against the North, he said.

What is certain is that China will not play the role of mediator, said Prof Shi, pointing to the dire situation South Korea finds itself in now as mediator between the US and North Korea.

Instead, Beijing will continue to consolidate its improved relations with Pyongyang and render it economic help within the framework of the United Nations, he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2018, with the headline 'Not in China's interest to sabotage meeting, say analysts'. Print Edition | Subscribe