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Kim’s debut visit choice overinterpreted

By Li Kaisheng (Global Times)    08:36, February 06, 2015

Recent reports have showed that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's international debut will likely be in Bandung, Indonesia for the Asian-African Conference in April, before attending the celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII in Moscow in May. Beyond the media hype, public attention has been focused on why Kim is not visiting China first. Is he deliberately alienating Beijing and trying to lower the influence of China? Will the divergence between the two sides be more undisguised?

Many people believe that the special relationship between China and North Korea is due to the comprehensive effects of geopolitics and history. North Korea may have realized that it is abnormal to highly depend on a single country. However, against the backdrop of its internal problems and external dilemma, what North Korea needs is not to alienate China, but to develop its relations with other countries based on a solid tie with China.

There is no reason for Kim not to come to China for his first international state visit since taking power three years ago. And China, as a country with a special responsibility to maintain peace and stability in Northeast Asia, has no reason not to play host to Kim.

For those who wonder why Kim has not visited China, a better explanation could be that the two sides have not reached a consensus yet, rather than speculations such as that Kim is purposely bypassing China or that China is intentionally giving him the cold shoulder.

It is widely known that North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests in total, and the latest one was conducted after Kim assumed office. China, on the other hand, has declared that it firmly opposed Pyongyang's development of nuclear weapons. Thus, if Kim does not show good faith over this issue, Beijing obviously has no reason to receive him.

Perhaps, Kim still deems that he could keep North Korea's relationship with China in the traditional pattern, under which Beijing, to avoid losing Pyongyang as a buffer zone, would keep its eyes shut to Pyongyang's behavior that might harm China's interests, and would warmly embrace Kim's visit.

However, China has grown bored with constantly being subject to North Korea's demand. Especially after Xi Jinping took over as Chinese president, its diplomatic priority has become seizing the strategic initiative and not to be easily led by the nose. If Kim wants to keep playing this game, he can only run into opposition.

It doesn't matter to Beijing that Kim does not choose China as his first stop. Kim could have improved relations with China and leveraged his diplomatic weight by visiting China first. Even though he can gather enough media attention by going to Bandung and Moscow, he would not get concrete help from these two host countries.

Russia is in a difficult position at the moment with a collapsing economy and chilly relationship with the US. It can hardly provide any material support or facilitate to resume the Six-Party Talks with conditions required by North Korea.

Some may make a fuss over the rift between China and North Korea. But realistically, everyone knows there are different stances over some critical issues between the two sides. A strong and confident China does not mind showing the world these divergences. On the contrary, Kim might feel a chilly isolation. A lack of support from China will deal a heavy blow to Pyongyang given its vulnerable position in the international community.

Therefore, for China, it is not important where Kim wants to make his debut. What matters is his intentions over the nuclear issue and his stance on the Sino-North Korean relationship. Beijing needs to take active steps or even impose pressure to nudge Pyongyang toward peace and greater responsibility. If North Korea is willing to work with China, Beijing will welcome Kim whenever he wants to come. Otherwise China will not be prepared to become Kim's host country no matter how many places he visits.

The author is an associate research fellow at the Institute of International Relations, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Yuan Can,Yao Chun)

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