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Xi’s statements invite varied interpretations

Messages from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un relayed by Chinese President Xi Jinping invited mixed interpretations in Seoul.

During a summit with President Moon Jae-in in Japan on Thursday, Xi briefed him on the results of his two-day state visit to Pyongyang June 20-21. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Kumsusan guest house in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP-Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Kumsusan guest house in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP-Yonhap)

While stressing the North Korean regime’s unwavering commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through dialogue with the US, Xi said that Kim is willing to do what it can to address the regime’s “reasonable security and development concerns,” through dialogue with the US.

“The messages are carefully crafted by China to find a balance between what the US wants to hear and what the North wants from the US,” said Park Won-gon, a professor of international politics at Handong Global University. 

Xi said that the North Korean leader hopes for an improvement in external conditions as his regime is striving for economic development and better living conditions of the people in accordance with a “new strategic (policy) line.”

Experts offered different interpretations over what the improvement of external conditions may signify.

Park said the North is calling for sanctions relief, which the regime has been demanding in exchange for its denuclearization steps.

“In order to proceed with nearly every part of the economic development plan, the removal of sanctions is essential,” he said.

Lee Woo-young, a professor at University of North Korean Studies, said it could be the regime’s request for South Korea, China and Russia to furnish more active support.

“China and Russia, whose leaders recently had meetings with Kim, appear to have provided food and possibly petroleum products to North Korea. The regime may want more of them from the South and the neighboring countries,” Lee said.

Under tough sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and the US, Chinese imports from North Korea plummeted by 88 percent in 2018.

With the sanctions biting its economy, the North has been seeking to restore a trilateral alliance with Beijing and Moscow. 

Kim traveled to Russia in April for a summit with President Vladimir Putin. On Monday, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Im Chon-il met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov and discussed the need to strengthen cooperation between the two countries to comprehensively resolve the regional issues.

Kim also expressed his willingness to seek reconciliation and cooperation with South Korea, according to Xi.

His call for inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation confused many here as it stands in stark contrast to what North Korean Foreign Ministry stated Thursday, warning Seoul against meddling in its bilateral talks with Washington on denuclearization.

“Seemingly, the North is discontented with some conditions or negotiating cards that the South has offered in inter-Korean talks that have not been publicly revealed,” Lee said.

Since a second summit between Trump and Kim ended without a deal in Hanoi, Vietnam, in late February, relations between the two Koreas have fizzled out. Despite Moon’s repeated requests for a new summit with Kim, Pyongyang has remained unresponsive.