State Media: ‘Essential’ for China to Be Involved in Trump-Kim Peace Deal

Collage of Trump, Xi, and Kim

China’s state-run Global Times did its part to put Beijing at the table with President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un via an editorial Monday stating it is “essential” for China to be involved in any peace deal that officially ends the Korean War.

Citing reports that South Korean President Moon Jae-in might travel to Singapore on June 12 and participate in the meeting between Trump and Kim, the Global Times asserts China should be there, too:

The Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953 by North Korea and China on one side and the United Nations Command on the other, led by the US.

Without a peace treaty, theoretically the Korean Peninsula has remained in a state of war for over 60 years.

Pyongyang is hoping to replace the armistice with a peace treaty, as advocated in the Panmunjom Declaration. There is a positive mood surrounding Washington and Pyongyang negotiating on the subject.

As China is one of the signatories of the armistice, its participation in formulating and signing a declaration to end the war is essential to ensure its legal and historical status.

When it comes to issues on the Korean Peninsula, apart from denuclearization and a permanent peace, geopolitical considerations have also emerged from time to time and created uncertainties in the peace process in recent times.

For China, denuclearization and a permanent peace on the peninsula are more important than anything else. Encouraging the signing of a peace treaty should thus be China’s major policy.

“There are some analyses in the South Korean media that suggest the peace treaty will be signed by the US, South and North Korea, leaving China marginalized,” the editorial says, before essentially conceding that China’s signature on a peace deal is not mandatory, and it would be politically difficult for Beijing to loudly challenge the legitimacy of a treaty reached without its participation and approval.

“Permanent peace on the peninsula comes above everything. China will certainly play a constructive role. China is not interested in taking credit. We simply seek to solidify the peace process,” the editorial concludes, previewing the line Chinese President Xi Jinping and his officials will probably take if a historic announcement is made from Singapore without China’s blessing.

China was very much on the agenda at the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in Singapore this week, which CNN described as a “summit before the summit,” where North Korea took a back seat to concerns about China’s militarization of the South China Sea:

For many of the government officials and experts at the forum, North Korea is something of a temporary headache, when compared to the much bigger issue of China and the disruption to what’s known as the “rules-based order.”

The term, which is used as short hand for the principles and norms that have shaped and define the international system since the end of World War II, could be heard repeatedly throughout the summit.

In Asia, the most tangible example of the threat to the “rules-based order” is in the South China Sea, a body of water contested by a handful of regions that China claims as its own.

Beijing has fortified and militarized artificial islands in the region, a tactic that analysts and China’s adversaries claim is meant to bolster its claims over the waters surrounding the islands and intimidate neighbors.

From this perspective, China has reason to be nervous about losing North Korea as leverage over the region and a constant distraction from its own activities. China has profited handsomely during the past few decades from selling itself as the only firm hand that can rein in North Korean aggression. If the North Korean threat is even temporarily diminished by a successful denuclearization process, China loses some cards it loves to play, while other regional powers begin worrying more about Beijing than Pyongyang.

Channel News Asia points out that previous rounds of North Korean talks that included China and Russia went nowhere, making it understandable that Trump and Moon might prefer to keep China at arm’s length this time.

Conversely, Xi has gone to great lengths to mend relations with North Korea and present China as an invaluable participant in peace talks. Whatever the merits of China’s argument that the Korean War cannot be properly ended without Chinese participation and that denuclearization will never work without Chinese involvement, it is hard to imagine Xi would be frozen completely out of the summit if he personally turns up in Singapore on June 12.