Northeast AsiaWeapons Proliferation

CCP’s diplomatic overtures to North Korea cast uncertainty over rogue nation’s nuclear disarmament


Speculation mounts as to whether the Chinese government’s increased efforts at diplomacy with North Korea will curtail the Kim Jong Un regime’s nuclear and ballistic weapons programs or further undermine enforcement of U.N. Security Council Resolutions aimed at stopping their development.

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping in a letter to Kim released in mid-April 2023 announced that he seeks a “higher stage” of relations with Pyongyang, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Agence France-Presse reported.

Given that “the international and regional situations are now changing seriously and in a complicated way,” Xi wrote in the letter, he was willing to elevate bilateral ties by “strengthening the strategic communication and jointly guiding” the relationship, KCNA reported.

The push came as Group of Seven (G-7) foreign ministers condemned the North’s continuing series of unprecedented weapons tests. “Such actions must be met with a swift, united, and robust international response, including further significant measures to be taken by the U.N. Security Council,” top G-7 diplomats from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the European Union, said in a joint statement issued after their April 2023 talks in Karuizawa, Japan, Reuters reported.

The Kim regime has continued to defy U.N. Security Council resolutions, conducting at least a dozen missile tests in 2023 so far, including launching some of its latest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). North Korea claimed its April 13 test was of a solid-fuel ICBM that, if fully developed, could be used to target the continental U.S., The Associated Press (AP) reported. In 2022, North Korea conducted a record 68 tests, 10 times more than in 2021, according to Time magazine.

Kim also claimed in mid-April to be ready to launch North Korea’s first military reconnaissance satellite, the KCNA announced, the broadcast network CNN reported.

As the G-7 talks got underway, Japan, South Korea and the U.S. conducted a naval exercise in international waters between South Korea and Japan and focused on mastering procedures for detecting, tracking and sharing information on incoming North Korean ballistic missiles. South Korea and the U.S. also commenced a 10-day joint air drill, which is conducted twice a year, to increase interoperability between the two nations. (Pictured: Republic of Korea and U.S. fighter jets fly over the Korean Peninsula on April 21, 2023, during a joint air drill in South Korea).

Since 2006, the U.N. Security Council has unanimously passed nine resolutions sanctioning North Korea for developing nuclear weapons and related activities. Australia, the European Union, Japan, South Korea and the U.S. have all imposed additional unilateral sanctions, the latest of which were announced in December of 2022.

Although the People’s Republic of China (PRC) agreed to U.N. sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear tests, thus far there is no evidence that the PRC has enforced sanctions, choosing instead to divert blame and tacitly support the Kim regime’s weapons programs.

Historically, the PRC has maneuvered to weaken implementation of some U.N. resolutions and continued to develop trade relations with North Korea, analysts said. Western nations have accused the PRC of helping North Korea circumvent sanctions, for example, turning a blind eye on North Korea’s sale of coal. Meanwhile, Chinese companies have flouted trade restrictions with North Korea, according to sanctions investigators from the U.N., U.S. Treasury and elsewhere, The Wall Street Journal newspaper reported in March 2022.

The 15-member Security Council has been unable to agree on a response to North Korea’s latest violations of the testing bans, in part because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased global tensions. In late May 2022, the PRC and Russia vetoed a resolution drafted by the U.S. that would have imposed more sanctions, such as bans on oil and tobacco exports to North Korea.

In the past year, the U.S. administration has alleged that the PRC and Russia have blocked efforts by allies and partners to punish the North Korean regime for its recent tests. Beijing and Moscow have asserted that additional sanctions will escalate tensions with North Korea and have called for loosening the existing sanctions, according to the South China Morning Post newspaper.

Along with the fate of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program under the CCP’s invigorated diplomacy, questions remain as to whether the PRC will help alleviate the hunger and poverty suffered by up to 60% of North Korea’s population, as estimated by the nonprofit Borgen Project, largely as a result of Kim’s failed governance.

The PRC is currently North Korea’s main trading partner and source of political support, analysts said. However, the PRC’s humanitarian aid to North Korea has historically been insufficient, analysts point out, given North Korea’s hunger problems have persisted for decades. The U.N. sanctions do not restrict humanitarian aid.

In addition to Xi’s latest assurances to North Korea, the CCP in late March 2023 installed its new ambassador to North Korea, Wang Yajun, according to news reports, signaling a renewal of ties between the nations.

Wang will promote the traditional friendship between the “close neighbors sharing mountains and rivers,” CCP Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a daily briefing, AP reported.

Beijing appointed Wang in February 2021 to replace Li Jinjun as its ambassador to Pyongyang, but his deployment was delayed for more than two years due to North Korea’s border restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Yonhap News Agency.


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