The politics of Beijing’s impatience with North Korea

Senior officials from China and South Korea will hold talks over the coming days to boost their cooperation on regional security, following a landmark visit to Seoul by President Xi Jinping. Xi’s visit indicated Beijing was shifting its attention from North Korea to the South as the Chinese president broke a tradition of his predecessors by not visiting Pyongyang first on an official visit to the Korean peninsula.

There have been no top-level visits between Beijing and Pyongyang since Kim Jong-un assumed power in 2012. Xi’s trip to Seoul is being interpreted as a sign of Beijing’s growing frustration with the volatile hardline state following a series of nuclear tests and missile launches.

An Asia-based diplomat who did not wish to be named said Beijing had been exerting pressure through diplomatic channels to stop Pyongyang launching a fourth nuclear test after it conducted its third in 2013.

Stalled six-nation nuclear talks have been dormant since late 2008. South Korea, the US and Japan demanded Pyongyang show its sincerity to seek denuclearisation before the talks could resume, but Pyongyang demanded there be no pre-conditions.

[Despite these recent actions] Cui Zhiying, a professor of Korean affairs at Tongji University in Shanghai, said China still believed that taking tough action against Pyongyang would create further uncertainties on the Korean peninsula. So Beijing would not go hand in hand with Seoul against Pyongyang, while Seoul still depends on its security alliance with Washington.

The US has urged Seoul and Tokyo to improve their relationship as their worsening ties could play into China’s hands, while Seoul is aware that its strategic value to Beijing will be lessened should Sino-US relations return to a more positive track, Lee Jung-nam, a professor at the Asiatic Research Institute at Korea University said.

“The development of ties between South Korea and China has implications for the relationship between South Korea, the US and Japan.”

[South China Morning Post]