Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in North Korea Wednesday for the first visit by a Chinese top diplomat to Pyongyang in 11 years. Wang told high-level North Korean officials that China “supports and congratulates” dictator Kim Jong-un’s new policy of diplomacy with South Korea.
Wang is expected to remain in North Korea for two days, though the Chinese Foreign Ministry left open the possibility of extended talks.
The Chinese communist regime, North Korea’s closest ally and largest trading partner, has used its state media outlets to repeatedly insist that China remains a key player in talks to end the illegal North Korean nuclear weapons program. Kim made his first foreign visit as head of state to Beijing in March, vowing a commitment to expanding ties with China and keeping Communist Party leader Xi Jinping at the forefront of North Korean foreign policy.
Wang met with Kim Jong-un Wednesday. According to the Chinese state outlet Xinhua, “China supports and congratulates on the successful completion of the inter-Korean summit last month, which has brought beneficial opportunities for a political solution to the Korean Peninsula issue.”
The foreign minister reportedly reiterated that China supports North Korea’s “legitimate security concerns,” presumably regarding the United States’ presence in Asia, and encouraged Pyongyang to “shift its strategic focus on economic development.”
Wang also met with his counterpart, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, and “candidly exchanged their opinions on the matters of mutual concern including the situation on the Korean peninsula,” according to North Korean state news.
In addition to official meetings, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea’s state-run news outlet, reported that Pyongyang threw a “fete” to welcome Wang and his team, hosted by North Korean Foreign Minister Ri.
“The participants toasted the good health of Kim Jong Un, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Xi Jinping, president of the People’s Republic of China, and the development of the traditional DPRK-China friendship,” KCNA highlighted, calling the party “fraternal and amicable.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry applauded North Korea for warmly welcoming their top diplomat.
“State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to the DPRK is an important measure for the two sides to follow through on the consensus of the two state leaders and strengthen high-level exchange and strategic communication,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters on Wednesday. “China has always stayed committed to realizing the denuclearization of the Peninsula, upholding its peace and stability and finding a solution that accommodates the legitimate security concern of various parties through dialogue and negotiation.”
“We are pleased to see that the situation on the Peninsula is moving forward in the right direction,” Hua added, once again proposing a policy China calls “suspension-for-suspension,” or “freeze-for-freeze,” which would require the United States to withdraw all its military assets from Asia – to the great advantage of China – to push North Korea to abandon its illegal nuclear weapons program and belligerent stance towards most of the world.
Chinese state media outlets took the opportunity of Kim welcoming Wang to repeatedly make the case that China is a necessary and key actor in any negotiations North Korea has with the outside world.
“China will never be marginalized on the peninsula issues, nor could it be,” the Global Times quotes Chinese academic Lü Chao as saying. “Its role is as hard as a stone and Beijing’s suggestions, such as the dual suspension proposals, have ensured peaceful development on the peninsula.”
Another “expert,” Da Zhigang, insists to the Times that North Korea “needs advice from China about what to offer Trump.”
The Global Times itself comments in an opinion piece published Wednesday that anyone arguing that Trump, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and Kim have carved China out of the conversation “is a shallow attempt to manipulate public opinion. It is not a professional analysis, but an expression of dissatisfaction toward China.”
“China is a political mainstay for North Korea and the biggest trade partner of both Koreas. China is essential to the UN framework for addressing the North Korea nuclear issue,” the Times continues. “Without China’s participation, it would be impossible to reach an agreement on denuclearization and permanent peace on the peninsula.”
The piece goes on to demand that China “supervise” any process of denuclearization on the Korean peninsula: “Peace on the peninsula cannot be realized without the staunch support of China.”
The Global Times also makes bare China’s economic intentions in a piece published Thursday. “The world may soon witness the amazing power of economic exchanges between China and North Korea,” it declares. “At the very least, it can be predicted that North Korea will soon see Chinese tourists flocking to the country after the UN lifts economic sanctions.”
In Dandong, China – on the border with North Korea – officials have reportedly begun laying tracks for economic projects in the neighboring country. Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, reported Wednesday that the North Korean consulate in that city “held a seminar for officials and traders in the region” on economic development in the country this week, promising that North Korea “will soon become a trading powerhouse.” Sources told Chosun that Pyongyang had ordered its representatives to “attract foreign investment” to the country.
Chinese tourism to North Korea currently is predominantly of the communist nostalgia variety; travel companies offer “red tours” targeting older Maoist audiences that provide showcases of key landmarks of North Korean communism. North Korea’s abysmal infrastructure and technology prove a threat to these tours, however. In late April, 32 Chinese tourists died while on a “red tour” when their bus fell off a bridge while traveling towards Pyongyang.