The United States special envoy to North Korea travels to Asia this week as regional powers step up efforts to restart talks on ending Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programs. Glyn Davies, the U.S. Special Representative for North Korea arrives in China Tuesday and will later make stops in Seoul and Tokyo. But it is the envoy’s stop in China that is going to be watched closely for any signs of a breakthrough.
When Glyn Davies arrives in Beijing Tuesday it will be the second time he has met with China’s top negotiator, Wu Dawei, in the short space of less than a month.
Wu has been traveling between Pyongyang and Washington in recent weeks. Japan, South Korea and the United States have also held trilateral talks in Washington.
The U.S. State Department was hesitant to make any predictions about the talks when Davies’ travel plans were released last week, but did add that “every discussion is an opportunity.”
North Korea analysts in China agree.
“It’s very difficult to tell what exactly will come out of Glyn Davies' visit this time. But the fact that Davies is coming shows that both China and the United States are working very closely to bring North Korea back to the diplomatic track,” said Wang Dong, a political scientist at Peking University.
North Korea pulled out of the six party-talks in 2009 and has called for their resumption with no preconditions. Washington says North Korea needs to show it is serious about abandoning its pursuit of nuclear weapons before the United States will resume negotiations.
For its part, China has been stepping up its efforts in recent months to let the North know how serious it is about sanctions and getting back to the negotiating table.
In September, China released a list of banned export items to North Korea to make sure that United Nations sanctions were being tightly enforced following a North Korean nuclear test earlier this year.
The list was released amid reported concerns that North Korea might be accelerating its nuclear weapons programs. At the same time, however, North Korea has been accelerating its efforts to boost economic engagement as well, particularly with China.
China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner and Beijing is keen to get Pyongyang to adopt more economic openness. Analysts say the hope is that such advances would gradually shake the North of its nuclear ambitions.
Lu Chao, a specialist on the Korean peninsula at Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, says China’s influence, however, is limited.
Lu says that ultimately North Korea will decide whether it opens up or not. He says China wants to see more businessmen going there to invest, but from the North’s perspective it seems that Pyongyang will not open up too quickly or broadly to reform. Adding that it is still a military first regime.
Wang Dong says what the international community needs is a peaceful development strategy for North Korea to help it move beyond its insecurities and ideological constraints that keep it from developing its economy.
“North Korea has to understand the logic that they cannot eat the cake and have it too. I think this is very important. They say they want economic construction and they say they also want nuclear capability, but they have to understand there are trade-offs between the two,” said Wang Dong.
Earlier this fall, the North proposed a freeze of its nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests in exchange for the restart of talks. The offer, while viewed by the U.S. government as a positive step, has failed to gain any traction. Pyongyang has made similar promises in the past, only to go back on them.
The U.S. State Department says that after his stop in Beijing, Davies will visit Seoul on Friday and Saturday and spend two more days in Tokyo before concluding his trip.