Two Chinese pro-government scholars made interesting arguments during their appearance on a late-night international affairs program on the state-run CCTV on Wednesday. The scholars were Ruan Zongze, vice president of the China Institute of International Studies under China’s Foreign Ministry, and Su Xiaohui, deputy director of the institute’s Department for International and Strategic Studies.
The topic of the talk show was whether the thaw in the inter-Korean relations on the occasion of PyeongChang Winter Olympics would lead to negotiations between the United States and North Korea. Su expressed pessimism over Pyongyang-Washington negotiations, as the United States was still putting extreme pressures on North Korea, indicating that a majority of Chinese scholars at state-funded institutes are pessimistic. His tone was calm and did not reveal his emotions, as he appeared on CCTV frequently.
Ruan seemed a little excited and occasionally raised his voice, arguing that there are opportunities for North Korea-U.S. talks. “It is important to come across and say hello,” he said. “We should keep our eyes wide open and see if they can make a diplomatic miracle.” Su turned his head to watch Ruan speaking. The moderator closed the program, saying he was expecting an opportunity for an “accidental encounter” between the North and the U.S. It was unusual to see two scholars who speak for the Chinese foreign ministry to show such a difference on TV. It was an extremely rare scene to see on state-run TV.
The talk show reminded of a realistic view championed by Jia Qingguo, dean of the School of International Studies of Peking University, whom I recently interviewed. Seeing any meaningful denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang unlikely, he said that South Korea’s Moon Jae-in administration should be “more realistic.” Who would welcome the United States’ use of military force on the North? However, Jia stressed the importance of facing the reality of a heightened possibility of a U.S. military action in order to reduce the possibility of an unnecessary clash among South Korea, the United States, and China. I asked him if he had ever had such a discussion with any Chinese government official.
“I did unofficially,” he said. “Some officials supported my argument that the Chinese government should admit and prepare for the emergence of a crisis on the Korean Peninsula. I know who support me. China’s efforts for simultaneously halting North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests and the United States’ stopping joint military exercises with South Korea have not been successful so far. Under a situation in which North Korea has no intention of halting its nuclear development, Beijing does not have a clue what to do.”
That is why he stresses that China, which does not want a war on the Korean Peninsula but does not have a magic formula for preventing one, should support inter-Korean talks and seize the opportunity of North Korea-U.S. negotiations. He is well aware that the reality of North Korea’s nuclear development is not easy.
Today, the PyeongChang Winter Olympics finally begins. No one knows that will happen in the game for North Korea-U.S. dialogue played by President Moon Jae-in, North Korea’s Kim Yo Jong and Kim Yong Nam, and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. Ruan’s hope might come true like a miracle. However, we should also face Jia’s pessimistic and realistic view.
Wan-Jun Yun firstname.lastname@example.org