Xi Jinping Era Unlikely to Change NK Relations

With Vice President Xi Jinping’s appointment as Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Chinese Communist Party, he has emerged as the top dog in China’s fifth generation leadership. His influence on relations between North Korea and China and his management of Korean Peninsula issues will therefore be important for the future of the Peninsula.

It is likely that Vice President Xi will take over from current President Hu Jintao at the country’s 18th Party Congress in October, 2012, the same year that North Korea claims will see the completion of the “strong and prosperous state”.

The latest moves suggest, however, that the alliance between the two countries is unlikely to change when power changes hands.

After Xi Jinping took the office of Vice President in March, 2008 via the National People’s Congress, he visited Pyongyang in June to meet with Kim Jong Il and Kim Young Nam, the Supreme People’s Committee’s Permanent Chairperson. On the 8th of this month, he also attended an event celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Chosun Workers’ Party in the North’s embassy in Beijing.

During that event, Xi implied that China has formally acquiesced to Kim Jong Eun’s succession, saying, “With the new leadership of the North Korean Workers’ Party, we are inheriting a tradition and stepping forward into the future, with friendly good-neighbor relations and strengthening cooperative spirit.”

Experts on issues of China and North Korea predict that the two countries are likely to continue to be active in their exchanges at least until 2012, especially given the Chinese policy on foreign affairs, which can be summarized as “stable management of the Korea Peninsula.” At the same time, China and North Korea need to concentrate on their individual power transfers, to Xi Jingping and Kim Jong Eun.

On this, the chair of the Chinese Study Center at the Sejong Institute, Lee Tae Hwan told The Daily NK, “We should not expect any changes to relations between North Korea and China when Xi succeeds to power,” adding, “China is only likely to change its ways depending on the North Korean situation in the long run.”

An anonymous official from diplomatic circles also said, “It is the time for both countries to settle their succession systems. Therefore, the leading groups are likely to strengthen their exchanges until 2012.”

He emphasized, “The Chinese policy on North Korea, stable management, will not change just because there is a change of leader. They will keep their existing stance.”

Lee explained, however, that the difference is that while the schedule for the Chinese succession has already been confirmed, meaning they will be able to move forward with stability, North Korea could face several unstable elements in both politics and economics. Therefore, there is a high possibility of North Korea making a risky choice so as to remove such unstable elements, and this could have an impact on relations.

If North Korea carries out a nuclear test or missile launch to threaten the international community, for example, China will not embrace North Korea as now.

Lee predicted, “China needs to send a message to the international community that it is contributing to stability on the Korean Peninsula and regional development, so both countries’ relations would then be strained.”