China’s position has been consistent. China is firmly committed to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula reached through peaceful means and is opposed to war and chaos on the peninsula. The fact that Pyongyang and the United States are embarking on a journey of peaceful negotiations is in the right direction — a direction China has all along called for and has played a vital role in making possible.
Indeed, success of the summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is not impossible. Both sides have made previously unimaginable concessions to make this happen. The summit may even lead to a new agreement and usher in an important stabilizing process.
Naturally, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. When faced with such a grave challenge, all parties need to make adjustments and compromises if they wish to achieve their respective objectives. For North Korea, this is a matter of life or death, and it will certainly take a very serious approach. Yet, it will be vulnerable, touchy and nervous at the same time. What Kim Jong Un has been after is no different from what his father and even grandfather had always wanted: national and regime security. No matter what North Korea does — be it nuclear development or abandonment — it would be for the same purpose. So, Pyongyang’s calculations are not difficult to gauge.
But what do we know about the U.S. approach? The Americans have been working on a thorough analysis of the nuclear issue and have detailed requirements as to how denuclearization should take place. But we rarely hear what they are ready to offer to North Korea in return. When the Americans propose a front-loaded denuclearization, have they thought about how to “front-load” North Korea’s security concern? When the United States demands that Pyongyang’s denuclearization be “immediate” and “permanent,” have they considered how to “permanently” guarantee Pyongyang’s security? The key is whether the parties can have empathy and step into the other’s shoes for a moment.
The parties are well-advised to avoid trapping themselves by making demands that are impossible to meet at the current stage. Some room should be left to make both parties comfortable enough to allow the process to proceed, which would be a remarkable achievement in itself. As the Chinese saying goes, “Three feet of ice does not form in a single cold day.” As the Korean nuclear issue has undergone a complicated evolution over many decades, its solution will take goodwill, patience and perseverance.
As a firm proponent of peace and a voice against war, China’s role has been similar to an anchor which moors the resolution of this conflict to a peaceful course. We will continue to actively encourage and facilitate conciliation. To play the stabilizing role of an anchor, however, China also needs to be ready for a possible derailing of the talks and be prepared to prevent the boat from drifting or even capsizing.
For the Chinese people, a peaceful Korean Peninsula is our fundamental aspiration. We would like to see the people of North Korea able to embark on a path of economic development. We sincerely hope that the parties rise to the challenge of this historic moment.
This was produced by The WorldPost, a partnership of the Berggruen Institute and The Washington Post.