Days after North Korea rebuked American arrogance regarding the peace process in an official statement that was highly critical of the US taking credit for the rapidly advancing peace process, Kim Jong-un took a rare flight to the Chinese port city of Dalian for his second ever one-on-one meeting with President Xi Jinping.
While Kim Jong-un’s first meeting with any foreign head of state was his formal visit to Beijing, today’s visit was far more low key with photos of Kim sharing a beach front walk with Xi indicating that there was a deeply personal and personable element to this meeting.
It is abundantly clear that meeting was motivated by Pyongyang and Beijing’s mutual position to send a clear message to the United States: ‘Do not undermine the Asian authored, Asian owned and Asian style peace process by making unrealistic demands and making arrogant, provocative and insulting public statements’.
Kim Jong-un later issued an official statement regarding the meeting where he further stated that US aggression is the only thing that could prohibit Korean de-nuclearisation. Kim stated,
“Denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula is the clear position North Korea has always adhered to. As long as relevant sides remove hostile policies and security threats toward North Korea, it’s not necessary for the nation to have nuclear weapons. Denuclearisation is achievable. I hope North Korea and the United States can build mutual trust through dialogue. All sides need to take phased and synchronised measures to push forward the peaceful solution to the issues on the Korean Peninsula, to realise denuclearisation and long-lasting peace on the peninsula”.
While Kim issued the statement, the time and place off its issuing makes it clear that Kim is speaking not only from the DPRK’s perspective but that he is echoing the anger and frustrations of the Chinese leadership at the way that the US has thus far handled the preliminary steps of the peace process.
North Korea has rightly emphasised that its position in the forthcoming negotiations with the US are based on a position of strength. This is of course consistent with the DPRK’s statements throughout 2017 where Kim and his ministers stated that Pyongyang will be willing to negotiate with the United States only after nuclear parity was reached. By this, North Korea meant that it needed to fully develop an effective nuclear deterrent that could strike US soil, just as US nuclear weapons can strike the DPRK’s soil.
The DPRK also stated when such a time would arise that de-nuclearisation would be on the table, that it would require security guarantees from the US that for its part, it would de-weaponsie its assets in South Korea. This was a position shared by China and Russia who argued for a “double-freeze” to weapons tests and military drills on both sides of the 38th parallel.
Far from accepting American arrogance and threats, which included a recent statement from the permanently unhinged US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley who refused to take the threat of war off the table even as North and South Korea are on the verge of singing a historic peace treaty to formally end the Korean War/Fatherland Liberation War, the DPRK has made it clear that peace negotiations are a two-way street.
While Washington has already got much of what it has admittedly desired from the DPRK including a commitment to unconditional de-nuclearisation, a cessation of all nuclear and missile tests during the negotiating period, the dismantling of the DPRK’s nuclear testing facilities and the recent release of US prisoners held by the DPRK authorities, if the US continues to make further excessive demands of North Korea while moving the proverbial goal posts throughout the course of the negotiations, Pyongyang has made it clear that it is not negotiating from a position of weakness and will therefore act accordingly if its own interests are threatened.
On the contrary, as North Korea’s nuclear weapons remain ready in the event of a dangerous provocation and as the DPRK’s economy continues to grow, the fact of the matter is that unlike Libyain 2003, the DPRK is negotiating from a position of strength. This position of internal strength is further bolstered by support from both China and Russia, the wider world and perhaps most importantly a friendly Moon Jae-in administration that would not want its US ally to spoil the fraternal atmosphere which is flowering between the two Korean states.
Furthermore, when it comes to diplomatic considerations, the DPRK which is interested in open its economic and cultural doors to fellow Asian nations, feels diplomatically insulted by a US government keen on essentially perverting the pan-Asian characteristics from the peace process and turning it into a geopolitical victory lap for the US. While Asian leaders maintain appropriate sensitives towards both Korean states, for the US, there is a danger of neo-colonial chauvinism soiling an otherwise effective and productive peace process.
While the Asia of the mid 20th century was rife with anti-colonial struggle, foreign invasion and civil wars which largely stemmed from colonial legacies, direct neo-colonial provocations or a combination of all of the above as was the case in the disputes between Malaysia and Indonesia and also Singapore and Malaysia in the 1960s, today’s Asia is vastly different.
Taken collectively, today’s Asia is the world’s centre for both innovation and production. While European living standards fall, Middle East living standards (with the big exception of Turkey) stagnate and African living standards continued to be pulled in a variety of directions, Asia is a place where on the whole, people are now more prosperous, healthy, secure and optimistic than at any time in recent memory. Thus, it is fitting that in such an age, the leaders of an artificially divided Korea should embrace each other at a time when both Korean states have a lot to be optimistic about in spite of lingering uncertainties.
Today, it would be largely unthinkable for the states of ASEAN to fight among each other as they did during the middle of the 20th century. Likewise, Japan and China are making progress on economic reconciliation while the prospect for war remains entirely remote if not non-extant. In South Asia, Pakistan is escaping the shadow of US dominance and is asserting itself as a productive member of the multiploar world whose economic future will be positively shaped by One Belt–One Road via the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. While India’s ruling BJP remains at odds with a pan-Asian attitude, the ongoing meetings between Indian Premier Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping gives at least a glimmer of hope that both India and China will be able to embrace positive elements of a relationship whose strains derive from the ‘divide and rule’ legacy of British colonial rule over South Asia. Russia’s healthy partnership with China is complimented by a Eurasian Russia’s ability to embrace new partners in places like The Philippines, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand and Turkey in western Eurasia, while retaining good relations with Vietnam and also India.
Throughout Asia, it can safely be said that the present is better than the recent past and the long term future will be far better than the lingering 19th and 20th century legacies of colonial humiliation. As Asia embraces the future, it has also learned to gradually embrace itself. The symbolism of Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in holding one another’s hands during a musical/multimedia performance at the end of their summit is emblematic of an entire continent that is learning to hold hands and walk together into a brighter future.
While the Korean peace process is and remains a pan-Asian triumph and cannot be ignored that as a superpower that will soon eclipse the US in terms of wealth and geopolitical influence, China has been the quiet but consistent mover and shaker when it comes to pushing forward the peace process.
Because of this, the recent meeting between Kim and Xi sends a clear message that the relationships which count when it comes to peace in Korea are those between the leaders of both Korean states and the Chinese President, as well as the young but healthy relationship between Kim Jong-un and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in.
While North Korea is upset with arrogant statements form the US, China is equally if not more upset that the US seeks to project its unilateral soft-power narrative to try and undermine and undervalue the Chinese role in pushing for regional peace. Thus, without issuing a formal rebuke of US policies, Xi Jinping’s beachfront stroll with Kim Jong-un makes it clear that when it comes to both grand peace conferences and casual, intimate discussions about the future of north east Asia, it is China that is the superpower which holds the key to the process.