DPRK Briefing Book: Hu Jintao writes to Kim Jong-il to open door to six-party talks
Hong Kong Economic Journal, August 28, 2003.
The six-nation talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis in Beijing in August were the hard-earned result of diplomatic efforts by Chinese President Hu Jintao, says an article under the pseudonym “Zong Hairen.” Zong explained how Hu had finally persuaded North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to hold talks with the US, South Korea, Japan, Russia and China to resolve the nuclear issue. Zong said that Hu’s shuttle diplomacy had given the new Chinese government a good international image, improved Sino-US relations, and won the trust of Kim Jong- il. Despite China’s “dislike” of Kim Jong-il’s government and the financial burden of granting more economic aid to North Korea, Zong said that it was a price worth paying in order to repel the infiltration of US influence in Northeast Asia. Zong predicted that the Korean nuclear issue would not trigger a war and would eventually be resolved at the negotiating table.
The following is the text of the report by “Zong Hairen” entitled: “Hu Jintao writes to Kim Jong-il to open door to six-party talks” published by Hong Kong magazine Hong Kong Economic Journal (Hong Kong Hsin Pao) on August 28, 2003; subheadings as published:
The six-party talks on the issue of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) opened in Beijing on Wednesday (27 August). According to the author of this article, State President Hu Jintao wrote a letter to North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-il in July, in which he explained the necessity of reopening talks with the United States, and sent a special envoy, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo, on a visit to North Korea for a vis-a-vis with Kim Jong-il that went on for nearly six hours. This move laid a foundation for the six-party talks in the end.
China’s efforts were eventually rewarded by the United States. The Bush administration publicly articulated its objections over the issue of “referendum” in Taiwan, bringing Sino-US relations to a mini-climax, the first in recent years.
On March this year, China sent a special envoy to the DPRK, presenting to Kim Jong-il a proposal on “tripartite talks” in Beijing among the DPRK, the United States, and China. Regarding the US-DPRK-China “tripartite talks,” the United States, China, Russia, Japan, and the Republic of Korea (ROK) said with one voice that it would be unacceptable for the DPRK to possess nuclear weapons. This imperceptibly put the United States, Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia on a united front against the DPRK nuclear programme.
In fact, during the “tripartite talks” in Beijing, the DPRK took a concessionary stance. At the talks, the DRPK side said: “It is necessary for the United States to promise not to invade our country. Under this precondition, we shall give up developing nuclear weapons.”
Besides, the DPRK once put forward to the United States a package plan for scrapping nuclear development and missile tests, in exchange for economic aid from the United States, Japan and South Korea, as well as institutional assurances, in the hope of reaping major benefits. Naturally, this kind of behavior did smack of nuclear blackmail. It was for this reason that the representatives of the three parties decided to agree the dates of the next round of talks and consultations through the diplomatic channel. The United States hoped that China would continue to play a positive role.
However, to reopen talks, the United States requested that Japan and South Korea also take part, as the United States and the DPRK would clash with each other again if the DPRK insisted on US-DPRK dialogue under the three-nation framework. At the same time, besides pushing for a peaceful settlement, the United States was also stepping up the intensity of the option of settlement by force. (US Secretary of State Colin) Powell was praising the talks as “very useful” on April 28, but the very next day, he changed his tune and said that the DPRK’s proposal of abandoning its nuclear program in exchange for economic and diplomatic gain was “a move in the wrong direction.”
Meanwhile, Bush talked about peaceful settlement of the DPRK nuclear issue on the one hand and, on the other, he condemned the DPRK for playing “the trick of nuclear blackmail” and demanded tough countermeasures to bring the Kim Jong-il regime to its knees. Furthermore, in order to cope with the escalating tension over the DPRK nuclear issue, the United States hoped that Japan could join in when the sea blockade against the DPRK was being decided. In response to that, during his visit to Britain on April 30, DPRK Vice Foreign Minister Choe Su-hon reiterated the DPRK proposal tabled at the “tripartite talks” in Beijing on the one hand: If security assurances are obtained, the DPRK will not develop or produce nuclear weapons and will dismantle its nuclear arms facilities and allow international inspectors to inspect them. On the other hand, he refused to prove the DPRK’s possession of nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) broadly hinted that the DPRK had deployed nuclear weapons and condemned the United States for attacking the DPRK “in a despicable way,” saying that the United States should be the first to abandon its nuclear program, before “it is the turn of a small country like North Korea.”
Dai Bingguo takes letter to DPRK to talk them around
Since May, US-DPRK ties have remained locked in a serious stalemate, but in private, both countries have kept the desire to reopen talks. The Bush administration kept urging China to exert more influence on the DPRK over the issue of nuclear crisis. To this end, the Bush administration held at least 10 consultations with the Chinese government through diplomatic channels. Chinese State President Hu Jintao also indicated his willingness to do his best. Under the repeated requests from the United States and the tacit consent of the DPRK, spurred on by the (South Korean President) Roh Moo-hyun administration’s strong wish, expressed on many occasions, that China would do its utmost to bring the Kim Jong-il administration back to the negotiating table, Hu Jintao specially sent Dai Bingguo (to the DPRK) in the capacity of special envoy on July 12, Dai being the former head of the International Liaison Department of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee and now executive vice-minister of foreign affairs who is on good terms with Kim Jong-il personally (as he has had the most meetings with Kim Jong-il and is the closest to Kim among all Chinese officials). Hu Jintao himself wrote a very sincerely worded letter to Kim Jong- il, in which he stated the pros and cons and candidly expounded the necessity of reopening talks with the United States.
In his letter, Hu mainly made three promises: China is willing to help resolve this crisis, mediate, and facilitate negotiation with the greatest sincerity; China is willing to offer the DPRK greater economic aid than in previous years (without mentioning specific numbers); China will resolutely persuade the United States to make a promise of non-aggression against the DPRK, in exchange for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Dai Bingguo conversed with Kim Jong-il for nearly six hours. Kim Jong-il told Dai that he was willing to accept China’s viewpoint and could reopen talks with the United States. But he stressed in the same breath that one-on-one negotiation would be his bottom line and he did not like the idea of several parties getting involved in this, but he said in the end that this bottom line was not unchangeable. Kim also asked Dai to take a message to Hu, inviting Hu to visit the DPRK as early as possible. If a visit cannot be arranged this year, then next year is fine. Kim also specially had a private dinner with Dai.
Sino-US relations enter “best period yet”
On July 14, Dai Bingguo returned to Beijing. Dai told Hu Jintao that the conversation was rather pleasant and went very well. On the morning of July 15, after the US side learned of the good news that Dai had returned from Pyongyang to Beijing, Powell telephoned (Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs) Li Zhaoxing and immediately invited Dai to visit the United States the next day. Vice- President Cheney, Powell, and others received Dai with great courtesy and had talks with him, proof that the United States was rather pleased with what Dai Bingguo had achieved on his DPRK visit. It was under this precondition that the DPRK expressed willingness to accept extending the original one-on-one meeting to multilateral talks involving six countries, namely, the DPRK, the United States, China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan.
This outcome was indeed hard-earned. It was also a result of Hu Jintao pushing for it with all his might. Because of this, the Bush administration changed its approach of cautious support for Hu Jintao that it had adopted a few months before and made a strong show of support for Hu. Bush talked to Hu Jintao over the phone in person; Powell claimed that the Sino-US relations had entered the best period in decades; the White House made public its unequivocal attitude over the issue of “referendum” in Taiwan, more clear-cut than ever before, and issued several warnings in a row to (Taiwan President) Chen Shui-bian, telling him not to capitalize on the issue of a “referendum.” As a result, Sino-US relations reached a mini-climax, the first in recent years. However, as the US- DPRK talks deepen and some deep-seated conflicts come to the surface, China may have to pay a higher price than what it has promised to Kim Jong-il.
As a matter of fact, over the issue of negotiations with the United States, Kim Jong-il has been performing a balancing act between China and Russia all along. Kim Jong-il’s wishful thinking is this: Relying on Russia’s military armament to ensure the defence security of the DPRK; relying on China’s economic aid to help the DPRK tide over its economic crisis.
Naturally, the Chinese government is fully aware of this, but it has no choice but to turn a blind eye to it. One can be certain that although both China and Russia dislike Kim Jong-il, they have to help his regime in order to repel the infiltration of US influence in Northeast Asia. The Chinese government has always maintained that the collapse of the Kim Jong-il regime or the outbreak of a Korean war would seriously jeopardize the national security of China. A more severe consequence would be that if the United States attacks and eventually occupies the DPRK, it will in effect complete the United States’ encirclement of China.
Once the United States brings the Korean Peninsula under control, almost all the neighbours of China, from the east to the west, would come within the United States’ sphere of influence and this would complete the United States’ long-term strategy of containing China. This is the last thing that the Chinese government would like to see. Therefore, although the relevant ministries and commissions in the Chinese State Council object to the state freely offering the DPRK annual aid equivalent to the grant that the central government gives to a province in southwestern China (because of Hu’s promise, the aid that the DPRK will receive from China will be equivalent to the central grant to a province in the southern part of Central China), this expenditure is politically justified.
Naturally, from a purely economic point of view, China’s relationship with the DPRK has always been a losing proposition, but from the perspective of political and national interests, this is a long-term investment concerning the national strategy and is an affordable business that must be paid for and is inexpensive in relative terms. So far, because of what Hu Jintao has done over the DPRK nuclear crisis, the new government of China has established a good international image, further enhanced Sino-US relations, and won the trust of Kim Jong-il to a rather significant extent. This is very positive. Thanks to the mediation by countries like China and Russia, on July 31, Pak Ui-chun, DPRK ambassador to Russia, requested an appointment with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Fedotov in Moscow that day, at which he informed the latter that the DPRK had agreed to hold six-party talks over the nuclear issue of the Korean Peninsula.
Chinese delegations continue mediation one after the other
On 14 August, after several consultations, China, the DPRK, the United States, South Korea, Russia, and Japan jointly announced the decision to hold six-party talks in Beijing on August 27, scheduled to last three days. For the sake of the August 27 six-party talks in Beijing, Hu Jintao once again took a proactive stance and decided to send another two delegations to Pyongyang on August 18 and 19, after the missions of Dai Bingguo and (Vice Foreign Minister) Wang Yi, headed respectively by Xu Caihou, member of the secretariat of the CCP Central Committee and director of the General Political Department (of the People’s Liberation Army), and Liu Hongcai, deputy head of the International Liaison Department of the CCP Central Committee. The main task of these two delegations was, again, to feel out the bottom line of the DPRK side regarding the upcoming six-party talks. On August 19, Xu Caihou first met with Jo Myong-rok, first vice-chairman of the National Defence Commission of the DPRK and director- general of the General Political Bureau. During their meeting, Jo Myong-rok showed a very touchy attitude towards the United States in exactly the same tone as Kim Jong-il originally had, leaving no leeway for compromise whatsoever. After his meeting with Xu, Jo immediately reported to Kim Jong-il. Having heard Jo’s report, Kim Jong-il decided to meet Xu Caihou and his party himself and pose for a group photo with them, and asked the media to publish reports on this event. On August 20, Kim Jong-il had a high-profile meeting with Xu Caihou and his party.
In Xu Caihou’s debriefing (he returned to Beijing on August 22), he said that Kim Jong-il was friendly to China and very polite to the delegation, but Kim was very unhappy with the attitude of the US side. He insisted on demanding a written pledge from the US side and did not make any direct comments on the proposal from countries like China and Russia that they would be willing to make a joint pledge to provide the DPRK with national security assurances. Kim Jong- il merely said that he was thankful for the brotherly sentiments from China and Russia. But Kim Jong-il also specially pointed out that the situation now is different from the 1950s (i.e. during China’s War To Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea) and that he does not subscribe to the idea that the DPRK needs national security assurances from China and Russia over the issues between the DPRK and the United States. He considered this the business of the United States alone. If the United States did it, the DPRK-US relations could immediately go back to where they were at the end of Clinton’s presidency. Kim Jong-il also said that the armed forces of the DPRK and China should conduct even closer military cooperation and exchanges.
In order for Kim Jong-il to show more flexibility at the six-party talks, in order to make sure that Kim Jong-il can personally direct his delegation during the six-party talks via highly secure communication channels that are not bugged by countries like the United States and Japan, and, more importantly, in order to verify Kim Jong-il’s bottom line for the upcoming talks once again, Hu Jintao sent another official, even higher up than Xu Caihou, on a secret mission to Pyongyang to speak to Kim Jong-il in person. That was also the final effort made by the Chinese side in the run-up to the six-party talks. The Chinese side was of the view that it would be unrealistic to expect these talks to solve the DPRK nuclear crisis smoothly, but this round will definitely be better than the previous round and the outcome of the talks should be a step forward.
War on Korean Peninsula unlikely to be triggered
It can be predicted that the DPRK nuclear crisis will not trigger a war and will eventually be resolved at the negotiating table. Although both the DPRK and the United States appear to still be on their high horses to this day and refuse to give in to each other, it is not enough to trigger a military conflict. This is because the Bush administration knows that it would be very difficult for the United States to move against the DPRK without the support of China and Russia. Furthermore, the antiwar voices in South Korea are raging and the Roh Moo-hyun administration has always believed that the DPRK has no intention to invade South Korea. Therefore, to coerce the DPRK into returning to the negotiating table by the threat of war and accepting the United States’ demands has become the number one objective of the Bush administration. Powell has reportedly said in private that the US government can make a pledge not to invade the DPRK through some kind of modus vivendi and give Kim Jong-il the reassurance he wanted.
Powell also said that in view of the lessons from the past (referring to the Clinton era), as far as economic aid is concerned, the United States will not directly offer additional aid, but will persuade Japan and South Korea to offer the DPRK more aid. This is also an important reason why the United States insisted on getting Japan and South Korea involved in the talks. The Japanese ambassador to China once bluntly warned the officials of the Chinese foreign ministry: If you want us to pay, give us a voice (i.e. let Japan take part in the talks). It is therefore clear that the dates of a second round of talks over the DPRK nuclear crisis are not far off. After the United States and the DPRK have bluffed each other for a while, they will both walk to the negotiating table on their own initiative.
In short, the peace and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is conducive to China’s stability, prosperity, and development and this is exactly what the new government headed by Hu Jintao is eagerly looking forward to and is committed to pursuing.