The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

China’s official release on Kim Jong Un’s visit, annotated

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made a surprise trip to China. He met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Video: Reuters)

In a lengthy statement Wednesday, China's party-controlled Xinhua agency confirmed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's visit to China after days of denials and rumors that began when Kim's train was spotted in Beijing.

The Chinese readout on the talks will probably be carefully analyzed by diplomats around the world — especially in the United States and South Korea. Both are planning critical outreach with North Korea over the next months, including a possible summit between Kim and President Trump.

Kim-Xi meeting presents a new challenge for Trump on North Korea

Here's an annotated and shortened version of the report by Xinhua. You can click on some of abbreviations included in the remarks for further context.

Xi said Kim's current visit to China, which came at a special time and was of great significance, fully embodied the great importance that Comrade Chairman and the WPK Central Committee have attached to the relations between the two countries and the two parties. “We speak highly of this visit,” Xi told Kim.
For his part, Kim said a series of major and happy events have taken place consecutively in China recently, as the 19th CPC National Congress was held victoriously last year, and the annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference were successfully held not long ago. (...)
At present, the Korean Peninsula situation is developing rapidly and many important changes have taken place, Kim said, adding that he felt he should come in time to inform Comrade General Secretary Xi Jinping in person the situation out of comradeship and moral responsibility.”

Both China and North Korea appeared willing to emphasize each others' significance and the underlying relations between the two countries.

But the kind quotes and descriptions of festive events in the release won't be able to fully distract from the fact that Chinese-North Korean relations have been unusually strained recently. North Korea's missile and nuclear tests have prompted China — a critical economic lifeline to North Korea — to tighten its pressures on Kim's regime as part of widening international sanctions.

After softening some of its demands, the United States managed to win over the support of both Russia and China last year for the toughest-ever sanctions against North Korea — including restrictions on its oil supply.

More from Xinhua:

Xi said the China-DPRK traditional friendship, established and cultivated meticulously by the elder generations of leaders of both parties and both countries, was the precious wealth of both sides.
Sharing common ideals and beliefs as well as profound revolutionary friendship, the elder generations of leaders of the two countries trusted and supported each other, and wrote a fine story in the history of international relations, said Xi.

The alliance between China and North Korea is historically rooted in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953 and close ties have persisted throughout the decades, even as the regime in Pyongyang grew increasingly isolated from the rest of the world.

The remarks indicate both sides may seek a return to times when China did not see itself forced to agree to Western-led sanctions against North Korea. Even though North Korea's nuclear tests also strained relations with China in the final years of the rule of Kim Jong Un's father, Kim Jong Il, the statement's focus on “the elder generations of leaders” still appears to indicate that mutual trust between the two nations could be in better shape than it is now.

From Xinhua:

The Chinese side expects political stability, economic development and people's happiness in the DPRK, and supports the WPK, led by Comrade Chairman, in leading the people of the DPRK to advance along the path of socialism, as well as the endeavors by comrades of the DPRK in developing economy and improving people's livelihood, Xi said.” 
“On the Korean Peninsula issue, Xi said that China sticks to the goal of denuclearization of the peninsula, safeguarding peace and stability on the peninsula and solving problems through dialogue and consultation.
China calls on all parties to support the improvement of inter-Korean ties, and take concrete efforts to facilitate peace talks, said Xi, noting that China will continue to play constructive role on the issue and work with all parties, including the DPRK, toward the thaw of the situation on the peninsula.”

China's repeated calls on “all parties” to improve inter-Korean ties in this statement and in the past can also be interpreted as a nod to Trump, whose saber-rattling tweets were criticized as fueling tensions in the past.

Striking an unusually conciliatory tone Wednesday, a tweet by Trump signaled that the moderated rhetoric by North Korea's Kim may indeed have the impact China has been hoping for.

“Received message last night from XI JINPING of China that his meeting with KIM JONG UN went very well and that KIM looks forward to his meeting with me,” Trump wrote, before adding: “In the meantime, and unfortunately, maximum sanctions and pressure must be maintained at all cost!”

The Chinese remarks above also show that Beijing appears to encourage North Korea to follow its own example in avoiding international military escalations and favoring economic development, instead. A collapse of North Korea's regime would destabilize the region and China's economy.

At the same time, Beijing is eyeing a stepped-up role on the diplomatic world stage and more international influence, which may further help to explain why China sought or accepted talks with Kim Jong Un.


“Kim said that the situation on the Korean Peninsula is starting to get better, as the DPRK has taken the initiative to ease tensions and put forward proposals for peace talks.
“It is our consistent stand to be committed to denuclearization on the peninsula, in accordance with the will of late President Kim Il Sung and late General Secretary Kim Jong Il,” he said.
Kim said that the DPRK is determined to transform the inter-Korean ties into a relationship of reconciliation and cooperation and hold summit between the heads of the two sides.”
“The issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved, if south Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realization of peace,” said Kim.
The DPRK hopes to enhance strategic communication with China during the process, jointly safeguard the trend of consultation and dialogue as well as peace and stability on the peninsula, said Kim.”

Kim's remarks on the issue of denuclearization include two key messages.

Firstly, North Korea seeks a “denuclearization on the peninsula,” which could also suggest it seeks some security assurances from the United States and nations with a nuclear arsenal that could theoretically reach North Korea.

Secondly, North Korea says it will closely coordinate with China during the talks — thus elevating the country's role going forward. But what happens if the talks fail? One paragraph in the Xinhua report appears to hint at an answer:

No matter how the international and regional situation changes, we will both firmly grasp the global development trend and the overall situation of the China-DPRK relationship, strengthen our high-level exchanges, deepen our strategic communication, expand our exchanges and cooperation, and benefit the people of both countries and the people of all countries,” he said.

Even if talks with South Korea and the United States make no breakthroughs, Xi appears to imply that China will stand by North Korea.

More on WorldViews:

Egypt’s farcical election and the long Arab winter

Here are all the countries that just expelled Russian diplomats

An aid group brought rescued migrants to Italy. Now they’ll stand trial for doing so.