The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China was held from October 18 to 24. The congress unanimously passed a bill that Chinese President “Xi Jinping’s thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era” would be established as the party’s guiding principle. The party amended its constitution to enshrine the so-called “Xi Jinping thought” as the country’s signature ideology. It is only the third time that a leader’s name and the word “thought” have simultaneously been enshrined into the Chinese Communist Party constitution since its foundation. That means Xi has now secured strong power that is equivalent to that of former Chinese leaders, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Here is Kang Jun-young, professor at the Graduate School of International and Area Studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.
It is greatly significant that a leader’s name is placed in the party constitution, which states the party’s action guide. It is said that the Chinese Communist Party set three thoughts or views, namely, Marxism and Leninism, the Mao Zedong thought and the Deng Xiaoping theory, as its guiding principle. And now, Xi Jinping’s thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics has become another rule that should be followed by the party. With the latest development, China has laid a solid foundation for building and developing socialism.
On October 25, one day after the party congress ended, the party convened the first plenary session of the 19th Central Committee and selected seven standing members of the Political Bureau, which is the highest office in the party. With the new personnel, the second term of the Xi Jinping government has begun. During his second term, Xi is expected to focus on resolving domestic problems such as economic and social inequality and strengthening the Chinese socialist ideology, while unfolding an aggressive foreign policy aimed at establishing China as a global powerhouse. Attention now turns to its relations with the U.S. In regards to the North Korean nuclear issue, in particular, Xi said in a party meeting that China would play a role as a responsible power.
Looking back at Xi’s first term, China was often at odds with neighboring countries, causing concerns and tension in the region as it rose as a regional power. Now, Beijing tries to improve the situation, focusing especially on its ties with the U.S. China’s goal is to maintain stable relations with the U.S. because it will help expand Beijing’s presence in East Asia. But U.S. President Donald Trump is putting great pressure on China over the trade issue. As a means of resolving the trade dispute, the U.S. is urging China to pressure North Korea. During the upcoming summit between Trump and Xi in China, the two leaders may possibly create a model to manage bilateral conflict. I think they will focus on cooperation for now, leaving some factors for conflict behind.
In an interview with local media on October 22, Trump called Xi “a good man” and stressed that China has the power to do something important in regards to North Korea. Apparently, Trump praised the role of China, which is implementing U.N. sanctions on North Korea more actively than before. Experts are saying that Trump has again revealed his intention to use China more aggressively as leverage in the solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis.
The U.S. wants to cooperate with China when dealing with North Korea. China claims that it has faithfully implemented U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang, even though it is still opposed to unilateral sanctions by a particular country. It is true that China has become a lot more active when slapping sanctions on North Korea, compared to the past. In this sense, Trump has expectations for Xi and hopes to continue to cooperate with China. With this hope in mind, Trump continues to deliver messages that Xi is a man who is able to do something important and play a key role in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.
As of October 25, North Korea has not launched any additional provocations for about 40 days since it test-fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile on September 15. Considering that North Korea often pushed ahead with armed provocations on important occasions in China, experts earlier predicted that Pyongyang may resort to yet another provocation during the recent party congress in China. Professor Kang explains what North Korea really has in mind behind its silence.
For China, North Korea’s armed provocation will be an act of crossing the red line. The last remaining provocation is a test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. North Korea claims that it has already detonated a nuclear bomb and even a hydrogen bomb. In this situation, if the North goes ahead with an ICBM test to show its ability to attack the U.S., it will leave little room for China to exert its influence in the diplomatic arena. An ICBM test will be a very difficult choice, unless North Korea is really determined to attack the U.S. That’s why it has refrained from the provocation. But it doesn’t mean North Korea will not make provocations in the future. I imagine Beijing had strongly pressured Pyongyang to remain calm around its important party congress. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may have agreed on that, since he probably believed that taking a step further will make it even harder to handle the situation.
The North Korean nuclear crisis is directly related to security on the Korean Peninsula and will inevitably affect China negatively. Moreover, the Trump administration is getting tougher on North Korea, sticking to its hardline stance. As a result, the nuclear standoff has emerged as a hot issue on the international stage. Amid high expectations for China and the international community, keen attention is being paid to what solution the Chinese president may present.
At present, China has no reason to give up on North Korea or restrain its communist ally unilaterally. Beijing may find Pyongyang a strategic burden, but North Korea can still play a role in keeping the U.S., Japan and South Korea in check. Therefore, China will not apply restraint on North Korea, saying that extreme pressure will only cause North Korea to go out of control. Pyongyang, on its part, will never give up its nuclear weapons development in this situation, so the current crisis will likely last for a considerable period of time. After all, involved countries will have to make a strategic choice of whether to accept North Korea’s nuclear programs or to eliminate them by using other methods. Is it possible to control North Korea? China as well as South Korea is concerned about this, since pressure has not proved effective so far. The U.S. mentions the possibility of a military option, but it won’t be easy. During the second term of Xi Jinping, the North Korean nuclear crisis will be a key issue in the U.S.-China relations, South Korea-China relations and, South Korea-U.S relations.
While Xi Jinping declared his second term through the party congress, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is beginning his third term. And Trump’s first Asian tour is largely expected to offer a crucial turning point in the North Korean nuclear issue. All these factors are likely to serve as an important watershed in regional diplomacy.
[Interview] Event Features Theme of Peace, Unification
A special event called “Toward Peace 2017” was held in the Seoul Station area in the center of the capital from October 13 to 15 to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula and the future of a unified Korea. The event has been held since 2015 under the name of “Unification Fair,” but this year, it was renamed and presented more diverse programs. Let’s hear from Unification Minister Cho Myong-gyon.
This event adopted the concept of a new elevated pedestrian walkway in Seoul. I hope it will remind many citizens that Korea’s unification is not something that is in the distant future or something political, but a process that we constantly experience in our daily lives.
The name, “Toward Peace 2017,” was inspired by “Seoullo 7017,” a new pedestrian overpass comprised of 17 walkways that opened near Seoul Station in May this year. The word “lo” in “Seoullo” refers to “road” in Chinese but it also means “toward.” This year’s event offered a variety of programs, in which citizens can experience peace and unification in everyday life. Here is Sohn Seung-hee, head of the Policy Cooperation Division at the Unification Ministry.
Under the main theme of “Toward Peace, Toward Future and Toward Unification,” the event encourages the general public to experience or get close to unification in a natural way. The capital’s new walkway allows people to easily access the old bridge. We hoped to use the walkway as a road that leads to peace, so we decided to hold the event in this area.
The event took place at three sites—the Seoullo 7017 walkway, Seoul Station Plaza and Mallidong Plaza. First, under the theme “Toward Peace,” people walked on a 1-kilometer section on the pedestrian overpass in a trekking program to experience what crossing the Korean Peninsula would be like. Under the theme of “Toward Unification” at Seoul Station Plaza, meanwhile, some 70 pro-unification groups set up booths highlighting various issues, such as aid for North Korea, support for resettlement of North Korean defectors, the Kaesong Industrial Park, separated families, North Korean human rights, and visions for peace. The most popular booth was the “Self-support Center for North Korean Defectors,” which was set up by the Korea Hana Foundation. Here, female defectors from North Korea sold clothes, bags and accessories they had made themselves as part of efforts to stand on their own two feet. Let’s hear from some participants.
These goods were made by defectors. With the fund supported by the Employment Support Department at the Korea Hana Foundation, we made the goods and are selling them here.
We’re from the Future Hope Sumiin Group from Bucheon. We made these cute eco-bags and pouches. We also have sleep shades, scrubbing towels made of artificial silk, and saucers.
The most-visited site among senior citizens was the booth for people from five North Korean provinces. The old, home-lost people wrote their wishes for unification on notes and hung them on a tree to comfort each other.
I’m a second generation North Korean. My parents came from North Korea during the Korean War and they passed away ten years ago, never to see the unification of Korea. They are buried in a cemetery for home-lost people in Paju near the inter-Korean border. Most of the first-generation North Korean home-lost people have already died, and I don’t think I can recognize my cousins or other relatives in North Korea. I hope I can at least see them in a video or exchange letters with them.
I’m 82 years old now. During the war, I left my hometown, wearing shorts, even without seeing my parents. Here in South Korea, I go to Imjingak Pavilion on traditional holidays to look out to North Korean land from there. I still have hope that unification will come about soon. My hometown is in Myeon-baek County, Hwanghae Province. I miss my home so much, and I often cry when thinking about it.
In a booth that reproduced the reunion location for separated families, citizens wore the name cards that had been worn by real separated family members before and had a chance to feel their pain, though only for a while. Lastly, the program with the theme of “Toward the Future” was held in the Mallidong Plaza area. The experience zone for peaceful unification drew a number of families. Visitors were especially fond of a cooking class for making and sampling North Korean food as well as a virtual reality experience of touring the Korean Peninsula by bike.
My kids are 10 and 7 years old. Previously, they didn’t have any opportunities to think about North Korea-related matters. While walking on the pedestrian overpass, I talked with them about North Korea, the truce village of Panmunjom, and the Korean War. I also explained to them different parts of North Korea, including Kaesong, and we saw photos of some forgotten scenes, like inter-Korean talks. It was a great experience.
I can’t visit Pyongyang in reality. It’s fun and interesting to have an experience of going there through the virtual reality program.
Participants also assembled blocks to build a sculpture shaped like the Korean Peninsula to wish for a unified Korea.
The participants are building the entire peninsula with blocks, and my family is working on the part of South Pyong-an Province. The program helps the children think about unification and do something they haven’t done before. They will remember this fun experience fondly.
I imagine there are only tanks or weapons in North Korea. I wish I can give a real car to boys of my age in North Korea so they can go on a picnic by car with their family.
The event reminded the participants once again of their wish and expectations for unification, even while a sense of crisis is escalating in the region due to the North Korean nuclear issue.
I wrote on a postcard that I wish to visit North Korea soon after unification. I want to climb Mt. Baekdu and tour around North Korean mountains and seas.
I hope to go to North Korea by train and have a great time with my family there. I also want to play with North Korean friends.
As the children wish, we hope South and North Korea will become one and share many things with each other as early as possible.