What other country could withstand this type of economic strangulation by its biggest trading partner?
None of this has anything to do with Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign which really had no effect on Kim's decision at all. Denuclearization is all China's doing. China put a gun to Kim's head and simply waited for him to cave in. Which he did. He very wisely chose the path of least resistance: Capitulation. The question is: What did Kim get in return?
Before we answer that, we need to understand that China-DPRK relations have been strained for more than a year, dating back to early 2017 when China joined the US effort to impose sanctions on the North. The Korean News agency sharply rebuked China for its disloyalty saying, "(China) is dancing to the tune of the US while defending its hostile behavior with excuses that (the sanctions) were not meant to hurt the North Korean people, but to check its nuclear program."
While the North's anger is understandable, it's worth pointing out that Beijing has always opposed Kim's nuclear weapons programs, in fact, in 2016, (long before bilateral relations soured) China's Foreign Minister openly condemned the DPRK's behavior saying, "We strongly urge the DPRK side to remain committed to its denuclearization commitment, and stop taking any actions that would make the situation worse."
The warning was followed a year later by joint sanctions aimed at forcing Kim to give up his nukes. To Beijing's credit, the goal was never to punish or humiliate the North, but to strengthen regional security by reducing access to nuclear weapons. Bottom line: China has acted responsibly throughout.
In March 2018, Kim made an unannounced visit to General Secretary Xi Jinping in Beijing. Kim was given the red carpet treatment for four days while the two leaders huddled and worked out their strategy for denuclearization in the context of a broader economic revitalization program aimed at integrating the peninsula with the rest of the continent.
Very little is known about the four-day confab in Beijing, but it's obvious that Kim was encouraged to normalize relations with his counterpart (Moon Jae-in) in the South based on a firm commitment to decommission his nuclear weapons. It is no coincidence that the meeting between the two leaders and Kim's dramatic reversal in policy took place just weeks after Kim met with the Chinese Premier. Clearly, China was the driving force behind Kim's decision.
Critics of process think the North is engaged in an elaborate hoax that will amount to nothing, but that is probably not the case. Keep in mind, it is Beijing that is calling the shots not Kim. If China wants Kim to abandon his nukes, that's probably what he will do. Of course, Kim would not go along with Beijing's demands if he thought he might be putting his country at risk of a preemptive attack by the United States. Nor would he give up his nukes if he thought he was going to wind up like Mummar Gaddafi who was savagely skewered after he succumbed to US demands to surrender his WMD.
So how did China manage to convince Kim that he had nothing to worry about?
This question has not yet been fully answered, but we have to assume that China (and perhaps Russia) provided assurances to Kim that his country would be defended if attacked by the United States. Such guarantees would not be unprecedented, in fact, in 2017 Beijing stated clearly that no unprovoked attack by the US on the DPRK would go unanswered. Here's part of the statement which appeared in Chinese state media:
"China should make it clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten U.S. soil first and the U.S. retaliates, China will stay neutral," (but) "If the U.S. and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so.
"China opposes both nuclear proliferation and war in the Korean Peninsula. It will not encourage any side to stir up military conflict, and will firmly resist any side which wants to change the status quo of the areas where China's interests are concerned."
Beijing must have allayed Kim's fears or he never would have agreed to denuclearize. But now that he feels protected, Kim appears to be eager to reconcile with his new friends in the South. Here's what he said on Friday:
"I look forward to making the most of this opportunity so that we have the chance to heal the wounds between the North and the South... I came here to put an end to the history of confrontation as well as to work shoulder to shoulder with you to tackle the obstacles between us. I came with the confidence that a brighter future awaits us."
Kim is serious. He wants to restart the peace process and restore economic ties with the South. He formalized his commitment by signing a document that called for "the prohibition of the use of force in any form against each other." "an end to the war," and..."complete denuclearization." Also, both leaders are committed to the gradual economic integration of the North and South via vital infrastructure projects that will strengthen popular support for the (eventual) reunification of the country. The importance of this joint commitment cannot be overstated. Kim is not simply giving up his nukes to placate China or ease sanctions, he is taking the first step on a path towards "balanced economic growth and shared prosperity."
Item 6 in the Panmunjeom Declaration," which Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in signed on Friday, lays it out in black and white:
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