Why China Sent Wu to Pyongyang

Wu Dawei, China’s representative to the Six-Party Talks, started an unexpected visit to North Korea on the 26th, implying that negotiations between North Korea and China could soon be back on track.

The recent normalization of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and successful negotiations on separated family reunions have created a mood for engagement on the Korean Peninsula. China is believed to have sent Wu to North Korea in response to that mood.

China is also pushing the U.S. to talk. At defense ministerial talks in Washington on the 19th, China urged the U.S. to “actively participate in a dialogue with North Korea.” Defense Minister Chang Wanquan said during a meeting with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, “North Korea has said that it will participate in three or four-party talks,” but added that the U.S. “should not attach any conditions” to this.

China’s support is absolutely essential for North Korea, so improved bilateral relations are vital, too. Kim Jong Eun has not visited China yet, while North Korea has come under considerable pressure from China because of its provocations on the Korean Peninsula in late 2012 and early 2013. Therefore, it is thought likely that North Korea will tell Wu that it will now take sincere measures to help re-launch the Six-Party Talks.

Since South Korea and the United States want North Korea to accept an IAEA inspection team, as well as stopping all nuclear experiments and long-range missile tests, China is likely to request that North Korea take some of those specific measures. Whether or not North Korea acquiesces in full or in part will be crucial, and most experts think that they will at least make some cosmetic gestures.

A senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, Park Young Ho told Daily NK, “North Korea did not mention the sincere prior actions that South Korea and the United States asked for, but by sending Choi Ryong Hae and Kim Kye Gwan to China it made it clear that it is willing to participate in dialogue, including the Six-Party Talks.”

“China also wants to see the resumption of the talks, and that is how Wu’s visit to North Korea became possible,” he said. “Since North Korea is showing a positive attitude in its relationship with South Korea, China, as the chair of the Six-Party Talks, thinks this is a good chance to resume the talks.”

However he also emphasized, “Although China has taken a strong stance on North Korean denuclearization, for example by applying UN Security Council sanctions, it will not put North Korea in a corner because it wants to keep using the ‘North Korea card’.”

A researcher at the Sejong Institute, Oh Kyeong Seob added, “South Korea and the United States are asking North Korea to take practical action prior to the Six-Party Talks. Therefore, China will ask North Korea to make a change that can lead to the resumption of the talks.”

“But there is no possibility of North Korea giving up its nuclear capability, so it will only make perfunctory changes,” he added. “North Korea will not find it easy to accept practical measures such as an IAEA inspection team, but it can make statements about suspending missile experiments and not creating tensions.”