Now that the North Korean military has exhausted itself with its temper tantrums and the mainstream media has tired itself out speculating, and not reporting, on what’s going on in Chinese and North Korea minds, a North Korean vice marshal, Choe Ryong Hae, announced that North Korea is willing to talk about talk.
At a meeting on Thursday between vice-marshal Choe Ryong Hae and Liu Yunshan, a senior figure in the Chinese Communist party, North Korea heeded China‘s wishes after months of rising friction between the allies, according to reports. Pyongyang’s special envoy praised China’s work on behalf of peace and stability and its “great efforts to return [Korean] peninsular issues to the channel of dialogue and negotiation,” China Central Television reported. It quoted Choe as saying North Korea “is willing to accept the suggestion of the Chinese side and launch dialogue with all relevant parties”.
CCTV said Liu, the Communist party’s fifth-ranked leader, called at the meeting for “practical steps to alleviate the tense situation” and an early return to six-nation Korean denuclearisation talks involving the US, South Korea, Japan and Russia as well as North Korea and China.
Pyongyang sent Choe to Beijing as a special envoy for the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. As such, North Korea watchers said he was expected to hold talks with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping. His comments on Thursday will most likely be seen by Beijing as setting the correct tone of deference for such a meeting.
Yet, according to Chris Green, most of this analysis is speculative.
Yesterday, Kim Jong Eun’s “special envoy” Choi Ryong Hae informed his interlocutors in Beijing that North Korea “seeks dialogue with related countries.” Choi, a close confidant of the North Korean leader and the head of the Chosun People’s Army General Political Department, did not go into detail, but his words have led to speculation about whether this marks a shift in North Korea’s attitude to its external relations, or merely a placatory gesture to appease the Chinese government.
Choi did not refer directly to “denuclearization” or a “return to the Six-Party Talks” in his comments, which were made in conversation with Liu Yunshan, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee. However, denuclearization is one goal that unifies China, the United States and South Korea, as well as the two other Six-Party Talks participant nations, Japan and Russia; therefore, North Korea’s stated desire for “dialogue” cannot be separated from the denuclearization issue.
Primarily because the outside world does not know what diplomatic message Kim Jong Eun gave Choi Ryong Hae before dispatching him to Beijing, it is impossible to know at this stage what Choi really meant. It is possible that he was indicating a North Korean willingness to return to the Six-Party Talks, but having loudly rejected the denuclearization forum in recent years, this is unlikely.
All that attitude, and North Korea agrees to six party talks? If I were the military factions that lost in the past few weeks, I’d revolt again for no other reason than exasperation. Seriously, that’s all you got? On the other hand, maybe it is the best way to deal diplomatically with the United States, even if it isn’t a path to a permanent solution. What is certain is, that the form of these meetings and their symbolic nature is more important than the substance. Every time North Korea sends an envoy, which western media generally spin as a personal representative from Kim Jong-un to his Chinese handlers, it reinforces Pyongyang’s view of itself as a sovereign state. What is always lost in this game is, that North Korea rarely if ever meets South Korea or the United States like this. And, considering Japan’s recent embarrassment with these summits, there might be something worse in Pyongyang’s mind than not meeting and slipping the cold shoulder. Still, in the absence of reporting, this is still speculative.