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China Reaffirms Commitment to Denuclearization at East Asian Summit

Daniel Kim Views  

Yoon Suk Yeol, President of South Korea, Fumio Kishida, Prime Minister of Japan, and Li Qiang, Premier of the State Council of China, are seen taking commemorative photographs ahead of the 9th South Korea-China-Japan summit held at the Yeongbin Hall of the Blue House on the 27th. Yonhap News

Experts on the 28th commented on the South Korea-China-Japan summit, held after four and a half years under the leadership of South Korea, saying, “This summit created an important opportunity for the relationship recovery of the three countries, especially between South Korea and China.” Although the declaration was at a lower level than in previous years regarding solutions for North Korea’s nuclear issue, the mere fact that it managed to sit the three countries, South Korea, China, and Japan, at one table, which has been desired for a long time, is considered a success. They suggested that the institutionalization of tripartite cooperation should be accelerated, emphasizing the importance of the future South Korea-China relationship management.

Yoon Suk Yeol, President of South Korea, Fumio Kishida, Prime Minister of Japan, and Li Qiang, Premier of the State Council of China, adopted a joint declaration consisting of 38 items in the joint declaration containing the results of the 9th South Korea-China-Japan summit on the 27th. The three leaders declared, “We each re-emphasized our positions on peace and stability in the region, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the issue of abductees.” It is an evaluation that each re-emphasizing is a step back compared to the 8th meeting in 2019, which expressed support for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, peace and stability in Northeast Asia, and the issue of Japanese abductees in North Korea. The expression complete was also missing from the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

In response, the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasized that it is meaningful in itself that China reaffirmed the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula amid geopolitical changes. A government official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “China has not been using the word denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula since 2023,” and emphasized, “The 7th and 8th meetings in 2018 and 2019 expressed the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, using the word Complete (C) because it couldn’t use the expression Complete, Verifiable, Irreversible denuclearization (CVID)”. The official added, “The fact that China used the word denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is not at a level that can be underestimated.”

Experts also evaluated that including the expression denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in the joint declaration of the summit itself could put pressure on North Korea. Choi Woo Seon, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, said, “I think China has somewhat restrained North Korea through this joint declaration,” and predicted, “From North Korea’s point of view, they would have thought that China would not put much pressure on North Korea, but since China used an expression mixed with worries, they cannot ignore it.” Cha Du Hyeogn, Principal Fellow of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said, “There are limits to having a more subtle conversation about North Korea’s nuclear issue unless Xi Jinping participates,” and revealed, “Because China has been using the expression denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula for a long time, it could have been diluted, but the fact that they made such a statement again is meaningful.” Professor Jeon Bong Geun of the Korean National Diplomatic Academy explained, “The establishment of the South Korea-China Diplomatic Security Dialogue (Diplomacy and Defense 2+2) meeting is also a good opportunity to ease military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.”

At this meeting, the three countries focused on the economic and civil life issues, such as supply chain aspects, rather than sensitive security issues. The rapidly changing geopolitical environment following the Russia-Ukraine war influenced this. As the blockage is accelerating into South Korea-US-Japan and North Korea-China-Russia, it is meaningful that the parties in the region, South Korea, China, and Japan, sat at one table and started discussions. Experts agreed that it was a significant opportunity to restore relations by hosting the three-nation summit for the first time in four and a half years, as the South Korea-China relationship has been somewhat unsatisfactory in the close process of South Korea-US-Japan since the inauguration of the Yoon government.

Professor Choi said, “The tripartite meeting itself could not proceed for various reasons for a long time, but the fact that it stirred up the water again is a success,” and revealed, “It’s not disappointing that we should have done more in terms of content since China has also decided to continue civilian exchanges including scholars, which it has been avoiding.” Principal Research Fellow Cha also saw it as “positive to revive regular dialogue and deal with cooperative agendas, although there were clear temperature differences in the individual discussions.” Professor Jeon said, “Based on this meeting, we need to regularize the tripartite summit and continue the dialogue.”

Daniel Kim
content@viewusglobal.com

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