‘NK leader’s attitude toward Chinese envoy shows his frustration’

By Jung Min-kyung
  • Published : Nov 20, 2017 - 17:20
  • Updated : Nov 20, 2017 - 17:20
A lack of response from the North Korean leader toward an ongoing visit by China’s special envoy may be a sign of Kim Jong-un’s frustration toward China’s newfound cooperation with the United States, an expert in South Korea said Monday.
Song Tao (left), the head of the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China and Kim Jong-un (right), North Korea`s current leader. (Yonhap)
“The meeting between Kim Jong-un and Song Tao, if realized, could be viewed as a barometer for the North Korea-China relationship and if there is no sign of such interaction by the end of the trip, it means Kim is expressing his discomfort over China’s North Korea policy,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Dongguk University in Seoul.

Beijing dispatched Song Tao, who heads the ruling Communist Party’s external affairs department in Beijing, to Pyongyang on Friday to “inform North Korea of the (19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party),” said China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency.

His visit comes at a sensitive time in bilateral relations between Pyongyang and Beijing, amid the international community’s expectations on China to rein in North Korea. China is considered the reclusive nation’s sole economic lifeline accounting for 90 percent of its foreign trade.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Monday it has yet to find any signs of interaction between Song and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, noting the lack of relevant reports made by the North’s mouthpiece or Chinese media. Kim had personally welcomed the former delegate from China in 2012 visiting for a similar purpose.

“Whether special envoy Song talked with Kim Jong-un or delivered President Xi Jinping’s handwritten letter (to Kim) has not been reported or confirmed yet, and (the ministry) will continue to follow the development closely,” ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said in a press briefing.
Song Tao (left), shakes hands with Ri Chang-gun (right), a high-ranking North Korean official upon his arrival in Pyongyang. (Yonhap)

While details of the trip remain undisclosed, Korean media forecasted it would wrap up Monday, based on Air China’s flight schedule. The only other option on its twice-weekly flight schedule between Beijing and Pyongyang is on Friday.

Song met with Choe Ryong-hae, a high-ranking North Korean official, upon his arrival and Ri Su-yong, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, the day after. They exchanged views about the situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the region and on bilateral relations, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.

Koh also said the North Korean strongman, as head of the rogue state, is being cautious of the message the meeting with Song could send to the international community.

“If Kim decides to meet Song it could be interpreted as a sign of willingness to yield to China’s current stance to support the sanctions against Pyongyang because Song already delivered messages to its senior officials -- he’s being cautious,” added Koh.

On Song’s trip to the North, Trump displayed his expectation for the event tweeting that “A big move, we’ll see what happens!” Washington has been making efforts to bring Pyongyang to dialogue for denuclearization, despite the isolated regime’s reluctance to abandon its nuclear drive.

However, China’s state-run newspaper Global Times said the US “overestimated Beijing’s leverage on the North” in an editorial published Saturday.

“The key mission of Song, head of the CPC Central Committee’s International Department, to North Korea is obviously to inform Pyongyang about the 19th CPC National Congress,” it said.

“Song is not a magician. The key to easing the situation on the peninsula lies in the hands of Washington and Pyongyang.”

The Chinese envoy’s trip also comes on the heels of US President Donald Trump’s 12-day Asia tour which included a summit with Xi. Following the summit, Xi said that China is committed to cooperating with the US on many major regional and global issues, including North Korea.

Meanwhile, Seoul’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha is scheduled to embark on a trip to Beijing to meet with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, the Foreign Ministry here said Monday. The meeting will lay the foundation for the upcoming bilateral summit between Presidents Moon and Xi, and address issues surrounding the Korean Peninsula and concerning both nations, it added.

By Jung Min-kyung (