One can easily guess how the North Korean leadership feels about Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to South Korea this week, accompanied by a massive entourage, including about 200 business leaders. Xi, who took office last March, will be the first Chinese leader to visit the South before making a trip to the North, which has become increasingly estranged with China, its only major ally, over its nuclear weapons program and refusal to take the path of reform and openness.
Xi’s trip to Seoul, which both Chinese and South Korean officials say will serve to elevate the strategic cooperative partnership between the two sides to a new height, comes in reciprocation for President Park Geun-hye’s visit to Beijing last year. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who took over the hereditary dictatorship following his father’s death in December 2011, has had to wait for a meeting with the Chinese leader, which is unlikely to come anytime soon.
Pyongyang has remained tightlipped about Xi’s visit to Seoul. But the isolated regime appears to be expressing its discontent through provocative acts ― in a timid way, however.
North Korea fired two short-range missiles into the East Sea on Sunday without making any prior announcement for civilian flights or vessels. The missile launch came three days after its test-firing of three newly developed rockets into the same waters, which Pyongyang’s propaganda machine said was guided by Kim Jong-un.
Pyongyang’s recent moves to accelerate talks with Tokyo on Japanese citizens kidnapped by the North during the Cold War era and to expand cooperation with Russia appear intended to counter the strengthening ties between Seoul and Beijing.
China’s apparent decision to shift its strategic focus to partnership with South Korea may have resulted both from its displeasure with North Korea’s unruly behavior and a wider plan for establishing its regional sphere of influence against the U.S.
It remains unclear whether this strategic shift being accelerated under Xi’s leadership will go so far as to risk the collapse of the recalcitrant regime in Pyongyang. But it will eventually pose a grave challenge to the existence of the regime, something the North Korean leadership will hardly be able to circumvent just with diplomatic maneuvers to improve ties with Japan and Russia, without changing its course of action. Xi’s overnight stay in Seoul this week, which is set to be filled with various events designed to highlight enhanced bilateral partnership in a broad range of fields, will hopefully have the consequence of prompting Pyongyang to rethink its mode of survival.