PRC Media Wastes No Time Calling North Korea’s Six-Party Bluff

By | September 20, 2013 | No Comments

Kim Kye-gwan in Beijing on September 18, singularly failing to impress the Chinese | Image: CRI Online

Kim Kye-gwan in Beijing on September 18, before what the Huanqiu Shibao called his “disingenuous” speech| Image: CRI Online

In years past, a North Korean pledge to return to the negotiating table would have been greeted with great fanfare in the Chinese capitol. Not so in September 2013. The Chinese Communist Party and the state media under its control have reacted coolly to Kim Kye-gwan’s appearance at a 10-year anniversary forum on the Six-Party Talks.

Why? After visits to Beijing by Choe Ryong-hae, another anniversary party in Pyongyang with Li Yuanchao, and a long trip to Pyongyang by Wu Dawei, an optimist might think that China and North Korea have had plenty of opportunities to coordinate the optics and the content of North Korea’s ostensible return to the negotiating table.  Specifically, it might have been possible to arrange for Kim Kye-gwan’s appearance in Beijing to be interpreted as a kind of culminating moment, wherein North Korea would return into the international fold under its own impetus, shielded as ever and in its peculiar way by the People’s Republic to its north.

Clearly the good old days are in the past. Few have been more astute in chronicling such changes than Scott Snyder, who was one of the few Americans to attend this unusual conference. Snyder has a good overview of Beijing’s goals and the parameters of the event.

What has yet to be pointed out in analysis of the event, however, is how the CCP made evident to North Korea, more or less immediately, that its representative’s push for a new round of Six-Party Talks “without preconditions” is unacceptable, if not downright sneaky.

The message, in the form of an event summary and some very tart words from Zhang Lian’gui, was buried at the bottom of the Huanqiu Shibao web site, but its intent should be plain enough.

Not incidentally, there are multiple errors (in the form of open quotation marks) in the item’s conveyance of Kim Kye-gwan’s remarks, and, in the absence of any North Korean coverage of this event whatsoever, the following translation does its best to convey what the North Korean Vice-Foreign Minister said directly, and what PRC analysts conveyed in summary of and response to his remarks.

Source: “朝鲜 ‘不设条件重启六方会谈’ 被批未放弃核武” / “North Korea’s ‘restarting of Six-Party talks with no preconditions’ is not [its] approval to relinquish nuclear weapons,” Huanqiu Shibao, September 19, 2013. [Translation, and analysis in italics, by Adam Cathcart.]

As reported by Su Ling on the Voice of China radio program “Unhindered News [新闻纵横]”  via Central Broadcasting website in Beijing on September 19,  the tenth anniversary seminar for the Six Party Talks was held yesterday in Beijing’s  Diaoyutai State Guesthouse. This was attended by more than 60 expert scholars and officials from the six countries — China, the DPRK, the US, Russia, Japan, and South Korea. Among them, the most interest was directed at the speech of Kim Kye-gwan, the DPRK’s First Vice-Foreign Minister. He proposed that the restoration of the Six Party Talks could be resumed only without the setting of preconditions.

Can this condition of  “not setting preconditions ” be accepted by the other states [这个”不设置前提条件”的条件能否被各国接受]? How long is the road to the restoration of talks ?

The next two paragraphs, omitted here, recapitulate the history of the talks, interpreting the 9/19 Joint Statement as the culminating point. They then walk in some detail through the various nuclear and missile tests taken by the DPRK in 2012-13, China’s support for UN sanctions resolutions, and the DPRK’s January 2013 statement that the 9/19 Joint Statement and the Six Party Talks were dead. Continuing…

At yesterday’s seminar, PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi gave a keynote speech at the opening ceremony. Then, the DPRK Foreign Ministry ‘s First Vice-Foreign Minister gave a long speech [有长篇发言] which seemed to offer us a view into the possibility of the restarting of talks. However, there are many twists and turns [有多少曲折] from this seminar speech to the restarting talks and then on to the denuclearization of the peninsula; peninsular experts do not have an optimistic view [半岛专家并不乐观].

Yesterday, in his speech to the gathering, Vice-Minister Kim Kye-gwan stated: “Whether it is at Six Party Talks or within smaller discussions within the framework of the Six Party Talks — we needn’t be restrained by formalities [不拘于形式] —  the DPRK is willing to participate.” He even mentioned the  2005 joint statement of 9.19, which indicated the goal of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula [and how it was] a comprehensive and balanced reflection of the concerns of all parties .

Kim Kye-gwan: “The 9.19 Joint Statement was itself  cultivated through a process of dialogue, and only through dialogue can this seed [一个种子] bear fruit.”

Kim said that the DPRK has already sat down onboard the boat of the Six Party Talks, and it hopes that other participating countries will return aboard to take their seats, so that the stalled Six Party Talks can again set sail [重新起航]. But he also suggested [the DPRK] did not wish for preconditions to the talks.

Kim Kye-gwan: “We hope for dialogue with no preconditions.  Setting preconditions for dialogue will itself cause a damaging of trust and foment distrustful consequences.  Requiring us to move [要求我们先动起来] before restarting the talks is contrary to the spirit of the 9·19 Joint Statement agreement and is not a reasonable demand.”

Professor Zhang Liangui of the Central Party School, the International Institute for Strategic Studies. | Image:

Professor Zhang Liangui of the Central Party School, the International Institute for Strategic Studies. | Image:

Having laid out the North Korean case, the story turns to Central Party School scholar Zhang Lian’gui, who is often regarded as Xi Jinping’s unofficial mouthpiece regarding North Korea. He has set the pace for Chinese criticism of DPRK, not least of which was a huge article published on Kim Jong-il’s birthday earlier this year where he openly stated, among other things, that Kim Il-song started the Korean War. At any rate, the man has broken various kinds of ground with Chinese expressions of agony, discontent, and outright opposition to North Korea in the recent past, so his appearance in the article appears to be relatively transparent.

Scott Snyder, queried via e-mail if Zhang was at the conference to voice the following critiques directly to Kim Kye-gwan, kindly indicated that Zhang was neither in the room, nor at the conference. Professor Zhang, however, certainly appears to have access to the full text of Kim’s speech, and the professor’s troubled vision of North Korean intentions forms the core of the article: 

But Zhang Lian’gui, professor at the Central Party School’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, pointed out that North Korea ‘s suggestion for “unconditional” talks was itself the biggest condition [“没有条件”的最大条件], and, truly, was a denial of the 9.19 Joint Statement.

Zhang Lian’gui : “Actually, North Korea’s biggest condition — calling for Six Party Talks without conditions — is to deny the 9.19 Joint Statement. In fact, with respect to this issue, the biggest difference between DPRK and the other countries, especially the United States and South Korea, lies in the fact that the United States and South Korea regard the 9.19 Joint Statement as valid.  North Korea previously promised via the 9.19 Joint Statement that it would commit to abandoning nuclear weapons, which is to say, the reopening of Six Party Talks must be done on the basis of the results of, and further promote, the previous Six Party Talks. But North Korea has claimed that all of the results obtained from the previous Six Party Talks are completely nullified. Now, North Korea is banging the gongs and drums again: ‘Open for business! Start a new Six Party Talks!’ In fact, this is one of the biggest differences between the two sides.”

Regarding the most substantive content of the 9.19 Joint Statement, the denuclearization of the peninsula, in his speech yesterday Kim Kye-gwan did not speak frankly about this [没有直白谈及]. Instead, he said that  “denuclearization of the peninsula is the first important goal of the [9.19] declaration; and it is not solely incumbent upon the efforts of the DPRK to resolve it; at the same time, the declaration requires equal effort from all six parties together to achieve the goal in a balanced way.”

Professor Zhang Liangui [responded] with his view that, with respect to the nuclear issue, the DPRK is hoping via the new talks to change its role from that of the supervised country into that of a supervisor [朝鲜是希望在新的会谈中转变角色,由被监督国变成监督者].

Zhang Lian’gui: “North Korea claims that a new Six Party Talks will not discuss North Korea abandoning its nuclear program, but instead will debate nuclear disarmament [more generally].”

The event in Beijing on September 18, intended to commemorate a decade of the Six-Party Talks. | Image:

The event in Beijing on September 18, intended to commemorate a decade of the Six-Party Talks. |CFR’s Scott Snyder represents in the foreground, second from left. Image:



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