While negotiations with the US have been in deadlock, North Korea and China have grown closer. In addition to official visits including Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s recent arrival in North Korea, the Sino-North Korean relationship is growing in both the military and economic spheres, according to several Daily NK sources.
“The background to North Korea’s recent testing of several new weapons is an active working-level relationship between the two countries’ militaries,” said a Daily NK source with knowledge of the Sino-North Korean relationship. “China has accepted North Korea’s missile and rocket tests and is using North Korea as leverage in its relationship with the US.”
“There’s a high likelihood that a massive amount of economic aid will flow into North Korea from China soon,” the source continued. “China has no qualms sending in food or other commodities into North Korea and is providing this economic aid in exchange for military cooperation.” The source also added that China is using North Korea as a ‘disruptor’ in its relationship with the US.
The two countries’ interests are currently well-aligned. China’s use of North Korea in the trade war is mirrored by North Korea using China to gain economic aid and improve its negotiating position with the US on denuclearization.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will be in North Korea for two nights and three days from September 2 to 4. “The upcoming visit by State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi is an important follow-up step to implement consensus at the highest level between our two parties and countries and to advance bilateral relations,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang was reported as saying.
Wang is expected to put forth China’s stance on issues concerning the Sino-North Korean relationship, including US-North Korean denuclearization negotiations, through a high-level meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho. Wang may also meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to discuss a future visit to China by Kim.
“There are many rumors circulating in North Korea that the Supreme Leader Comrade (Kim Jong Un) will visit China in October,” another high-level Daily NK source said.
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Postreported on August 30 that Kim could visit China again this year to “discuss economic and security matters with Xi Jinping”, but whether a meeting will take place and its exact nature “would depend on the security issues surrounding the Korean peninsula, progress on US-North Korea relations and the outcome of Wang’s upcoming visit.”
Glimpses of closer ties between the Sino-North Korean military and economic leaders have been observed over the past month. Kim Su-gil, director of the General Political Bureauof the North’s Korean People’s Army, visited China on August 16 to participate in high-level military talks with Chinese officials. During a speech at a forum in late August between Chinese and Northeast Asian officials in Changchun, Jillin Province, External Economic Affairs Minister Kim Yong-jae remarked that “(We) are making active efforts to expand and advance economic cooperation by creating around 20 economic development zones and improving the legal environment.”