China Pressuring North Korea To Return To Nuclear China

China appears to be applying some pressure to North Korea on the nuclear issue:

BEIJING — The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, bluntly told a North Korean envoy Friday that his country should return to diplomatic talks designed to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons, according to a state-run Chinese news agency.

“The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and lasting peace on the peninsula is what the people want and also the trend of the times,” Mr. Xi said in a meeting at the Great Hall of the People with Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, a personal envoy of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, the China News Service reported.

Vice Marshal Choe, who has been in Beijing for three days on a mission to repair the prickly relationship between North Korea and China, handed Mr. Xi a letter from Mr. Kim. The contents were not disclosed.

In telling the North it should return to the negotiating table, Mr. Xi appeared to strike a stern tone, saying, “The Chinese position is very clear: no matter how the situation changes, relevant parties should all adhere to the goal of denuclearization of the peninsula, persist in safeguarding its peace and stability, and stick to solving problems through dialogue and consultation.”

The Chinese leader called for resuming the so-called six-party talks, the diplomatic effort among six countries including China and the United States that collapsed in 2008 when North Korea walked out.

American experts on North Korea say it is unlikely that North Korea would agree to the talks, largely because the United States and South Korea would insist on preconditions like a pledge from North Korea that it would abandon its nuclear program.

The warning Friday from Mr. Xi follows a clear message the Chinese president delivered at a conference in April at Boao in southern China, when he said that “no one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gain.”

As the vice marshal proceeded through the standard meetings in Beijing with two senior Communist Party leaders, the usual conduit for relations between the two countries, and then a meeting with a senior Chinese military commander Friday, it remained unclear whether he would be accorded an audience with the Chinese president. The meeting with Mr. Xi at the Great Hall of the People was announced after it occurred.

The erratic behavior of Mr. Kim and his approval of a third nuclear test in February has annoyed China, the biggest economic benefactor of North Korea.

The assessment that the North Koreans won’t comply with the Chinese pressure is likely correct, but it strikes me that it’s only so long that can continue. After all, it’s eminently clear that Pyongyang’s effort to ratchet up tensions as a method of getting concessions from the U.S. and South Korea isn’t likely to work anymore. It failed spectacularly when they tried it in March and April. If the North Koreans to continue to go rogue as they have in the past several months, one can expect additional pressure from Beijing designed to get North Korea back to the bargaining table.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Look at the situation in terms of scenarios. For the Chinese the worst case scenario would be a re-unified Korea allied with the U. S. For the Chinese the best case scenario would be something like the status quo ante: a non-nuclear North still under the Kims, no real likelihood of re-unification but no hundreds of thousands of North Koreans trying to get across the border into China, either.

    The NK regime probably thinks, with good reason, that the Chinese will accept a nuclear North as long as things don’t get unstable on the peninsula.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I wonder if there are not other perspectives in China that would have a mini-China scenario for North Korea — a controlled but productive economy — to act as a trading partner. Leading perhaps even to a unified but demilitarized Korea. I don’t think there’s a real dislike for China in Korea, not as much as the (justified) resentment against Japan. If I were Chinese I think I’d be working toward a unified but demilitarized South Korea, which would inevitably be under Chinese influence rather than American.

  3. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’m not sure the Koreans will go along with complete demilitarization, especially (as seems likely) Japan creeps towards rearmament. My bet is that we will end up with a German scenario: a unified Korea with strong economic ties to China . China will probably insist on a broad demilitarized zone in the North and no nukes in South, though.

  4. Franklin says:

    @Dave Schuler: Your statement confuses me, only because I considered the worst case scenario to be a collapse of the North Korean government with *millions* of people trying to cross the border. Although I’m not sure what such a collapse might look like, perhaps Kim firing all his missiles off in random directions.

  5. michael reynolds says:


    Demilitarized to the extent that the Japanese are.

    If the NK threat were magically resolved I doubt the Japanese would be as likely re-arm. If China stage-managed a transition from the Korea of the Kims to a kinder, gentler North Korea, one that could begin the process of reunification, tensions throughout the region would diminish.

  6. China’s manipulation of North Korea is met with North Korea’s tangling with China. It is a complex relationship with historical antecedents. Simply put, China wants to control NK which she knows is a rogue country. On the other hand, China does not want NK to either bit her hand which feeds her or falls into the camps of say Russia which has her own agenda. NK know damn well what China is up to and countreracts China’s manipulation by being appearing to be uncontrollable. China does not want the Kim regime to perish and does not care how many North Koreans are suffering provided NK does not collapse, creating an exodus into China’s territory.

  7. Dazedandconfused says:

    I believe the new leadership in NK has adopted a strategy that uses a status, real or not (the only important thing is what their own people believe), as a “nuclear power” to attempt to dismantle that huge, expensive, but ultimately useless standing army, and attempt to transform their economy into something that could conceivably re-enter the real world. This prohibits them from negotiating away their nukes, so if I’m right, this is not a stunt to “seek concessions” like in the old days. Nuclear arms as their official “foundation” of the nations defense, which they did in their last plenary meeting a couple months ago, makes negotiating with another nation on that point dangerously close to treason.

    Even in the unlikely circumstance of the Chinese being “down” with this strategy, they can’t publicly admit it, not without suffering on other fronts, anyway. Seems likely they would like NK’s to continue to pretend to negotiate on nukes, as before.

    The Chinese now reaping what they sowed.

  8. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    One rather supposes the emergence of google maps for North Korea will be unhelpful to the designs of the Kims. The gulag part can’t be good for bidness.

  9. Dazedandconfused says:

    Along that thought: Just for kicks, when considering the leadership of NK, assume they know they can’t remain their people’s only source of information for much longer and believe the peasants must be in a very good mood when that happens or they will all be strung up. That might well be the most pleasant part of the process too….