The second U.S.-North Korea summit is expected to discuss a set of crucial agendas that will decide the fate of the Korean Peninsula, such as declaration of end of war in addition to denuclearization and its corresponding measures. Despite the ever-growing variables from China, the post of Korean ambassador to China, the commanding center for China monitoring, has been empty for a month now. Noh Young-min, the former ambassador, was sworn in as chief presidential secretary in January, but there has been no news at all as to who will replace him. The vacuum left by the former ambassador seems bigger than ever.
On February 8, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on potential agendas for the Hanoi summit during his visit to China, which was his fourth in less than a year. It was a gesture designed to pressure Washington by stressing Pyongyang’s role as China’s staunch sponsor. After having a “joint study” about the second U.S.-North summit with Ji Jae Ryong, the North Korean ambassador to China, last Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed that China’s support for North Korea would remain unwavering. By contrast, there have been no deputy-ministerial meetings between Seoul and Beijing, with the only exception being Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou’s visit to Seoul last month. The Moon Jae-in administration has been claiming to value its relations with Beijing, but in reality, the actual diplomatic effort simply falls short.
The absence of an ambassador inevitably makes it harder for the country to get any good intelligence from the other country concerned. The difficulty is compounded in this case, as it is China of all countries. The Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi next week is likely to make a dent in the diplomatic landscape for the four major powers surrounding the Korean Peninsula. There is a good possibility that Kim will have another meeting with Mr. Xi and makes his first visit to Seoul. This will trigger summit meetings of other countries such as between Seoul and Washington; Washington and Beijing; Pyongyang and Moscow; and even between Pyongyang and Tokyo. It is vital that we pursue solid diplomacy towards China, which holds the key to those complex chains of diplomacy. Furthermore, it is even urgent to fill up the post to restore relations with China, which have been strained by THAAD issues, and assuage the pains that Korean businesses and citizens are inflicted with. With the vacuum of such a crucial post left unattended, the administration must refrain from repeating diplomatic rhetoric on the fate of our peninsula.