[Interview] N. Korea not likely to provoke US next year, Wang Yi says

Posted on : 2020-11-30 17:17 KST Modified on : 2020-11-30 17:17 KST
Moon Chung-in reveals Chinese foreign minister's predictions for Beijing’s approach to Pyongyang and Washington in 2021
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with South Korean lawmakers on Nov. 27. (provided by the Chinese Foreign Ministry)
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with South Korean lawmakers on Nov. 27. (provided by the Chinese Foreign Ministry)

“The [Joe] Biden administration does not appear likely to prioritize a resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue, and we’ll have to see what position North Korea adopts after its 8th Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Congress next January. So there are uncertainties surrounding the North Korean nuclear program over the next seven months.”

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi shared his predictions for the North Korea situation in early 2021 during a breakfast meeting on Nov. 27, said Moon Chung-in, special presidential advisor for unification, foreign affairs and national security. In addition to Moon, the breakfast was also attended by Kim Ki-jung, director of the Institute for National Security Strategy (INSS); Hong Ihk-pyo, a Democratic Party lawmaker and director of the Institute for Democracy; and Youn Kun-young, a lawmaker and close associate of President Moon Jae-in.

Wang was quoted as noting the “uncertainties during the next seven months or so as the Biden administration finalizes its North Korea policy and as North Korea decides on new guidelines with its 8th WPK Congress early next year,” but also voicing an optimistic prediction that North Korea “will not engage in any military provocations” that could decisively alter the situation for the worse.

Wang, who has been involved in the North Korean nuclear issue since 1994, has visited North Korea three times, including a January 2018 visit at the invitation of Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho amid the North Korea-US dialogue initiated in the wake of leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s address that year, as well as another in June 2019 as part of a visiting delegation with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In a Nov. 29 telephone interview with the Hankyoreh, Moon Chung-in shared the views expressed by Wang on the North Korean political situation in 2021, as well as China’s position on its current conflicts with the US.

Hankyoreh (Hani): You joined Minister Wang for breakfast on Nov. 27.

Moon Chung-in: Minister Wang very kindly responded to various questions that we asked him. I got a sense of how intelligent he is as he shared his thoughts without resorting to any particular notes and took down the things that we had to say.

Hani: The biggest focus of attention is on what changes are in store for North Korea-US relations after the Biden administration takes office in January 2021.

Moon: With regard to the North Korean nuclear issue, China has shared its support for the Singapore Joint Statement of June 12, 2018. [Wang] said that the statement’s reference to simultaneously pursuing the “building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula” and achieving “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” echoes China’s “dual-track” approach [of pursuing the Korean Peninsula denuclearization process in tandem with North Korea-US negotiations toward a peace agreement].

China’s basic position as shared by Minister Wang Yi is that they need to cooperate with the relevant countries based on the Singapore Statement.

He also shared the view that there will be uncertainties in connection with North Korea’s nuclear program over the next seven months. The [Biden administration does not appear likely to prioritize a resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue, and we’ll have to see what position North Korea adopts after its 8th Workers’ Party of Korea Congress next January. At the same time, he said that South and North Korea would need to take the initiative in resolving this issue. He also said we would need to watch what happens with the 8th WPK Congress, but he shared the prediction that he did not think North Korea would engage in any military provocations.

China aims to avoid new cold war

Hani: What were his views on the US-China conflict?

Moon: The first thing the South Korean participants said was that “the US is our one and only ally, and China is our one and only strategic partner.” They also said that while it’s great for South Korea when the two sides can get along, if things sour between them it becomes difficult for all countries in the region, including South Korea. They commented on four main aspects of the current US-China conflict, namely the trade conflict, the decoupling, the technology controls, and issues of values [include human rights in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang Uyghur region].

Some of the media have called Wang “arrogant,” but he was very kind about offering explanations for our questions. He wasn’t trying to unilaterally persuade us; after we went first in mentioning how difficult things become for South Korea when the US and China don’t get along, he calmly explained to us what China’s position was.

Hani: What was his specific response?

Moon: We suggested that the situation calls for “virtuous leadership” on China’s part, and he said, “China follows in the tradition of the Confucian school, not the military or legalist schools. The Confucian tradition is about virtuous leadership, which is a win-win situation. We are working to achieve a ‘win-win.’” He also said that China is “firmly opposed to a new cold war in the long term.

This is a historical reaction. Mutual interests are tied together through globalization.” He then offered point-by-point explanations on the four areas that we brought up.

US businesses opposed to Trump’s decoupling

First, in terms of the trade deficit issue, he said that while President Donald Trump has waged a trade war against China, the scale of the [US] deficit with China has only grown larger. He said that there are market principles operating in US-China trade.

Also, he said that while Trump has been pursuing decoupling, US businesses are opposed to it. He noted that US businesses were the most widely represented among those attending the China International Import Expo in Shanghai [a six-day event that began on Nov. 5]. He also said that while the US is attempting to contain China in geopolitical terms, it will not be easy to accomplish, as China has good relationships with countries in the region.

Third, in terms of technology, he said that while the US is trying to choke it off, China will overcome that through autonomy and innovation. He talked about the trend of China’s outstanding [overseas] workers returning home.

Fourth, regarding the issues of values [such as democracy and human rights] that are being discussed in the US, he said that the Trump administration seemed to not want China to succeed. He said that with a population of 1.4 billion people, China cannot sustain development through a US-style model, that the trend of history for China as a country of 1.4 billion people is to pursue its own development model, and that while the US propaganda campaign in the international community has been intensifying and pressure on China has been increasing, China is also different from before, with a different voice and influence.

(In a Nov. 25 meeting with former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, Wang reportedly shared his prediction that the US will return to multilateralism after the Biden administration takes office and said that China is observing related developments closely.)

Hani: What is he looking for from South Korea?

Moon: He said that South Korea and China should continue cooperating. He also mentioned that he believes South Korea will pursue “balanced diplomacy” as the Chinese Foreign Ministry referred to in a Nov. 27 announcement. What was noteworthy was what Minister Wang said about “100-year inflections.” He said that the current moment is a historical inflection point after 100 years, with 2021 marking the centennial of the Chinese Communist Party’s establishment and 2049 marking the centennial of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. China has been repeatedly talking about a “100-year discourse” lately.

By Gil Yun-hyung, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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