April 13 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. and China agreed to work together toward persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear pursuits in a move that highlighted China’s growing frustration with a long-standing yet volatile Communist ally.
Appearing at Beijing’s Diaoyutai State Guest House, site of President Richard Nixon’s visit during his 1972 trip to China, Secretary of State John Kerry and China’s foreign policy chief, Yang Jiechi, took turns today expressing concern about North Korea’s belligerence and their shared goal to tame the aspiring nuclear country.
“China is firmly committed to upholding peace and stability and advancing the denuclearization process on the Korean peninsula,” Yang said in comments translated by an interpreter. “The issue should be handled and resolved peacefully through dialogue.”
“We agree that further discussion to bear down very quickly with great specificity on exactly on exactly how we will accomplish this goal,” Kerry said with Yang at his side.
The top U.S. diplomat is visiting a region that’s been on edge since February, when North Korea tested a nuclear device in defiance of the United Nations Security Council. He met yesterday with South Korean President Park Geun Hye to show support for a treaty ally.
While scant on details, the joint commitment by the U.S. and China was a rare display of unity on a divisive issue in the symbolically significant setting. Kerry headed into the meetings in Beijing with a goal of persuading President Xi Jinping to “put some teeth” into their efforts to restrain North Korea.
As Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi sat down for the first China-U.S. meeting of the day in Beijing, neither side directly evoked North Korea by name though both alluded to policy differences that needed to be addressed.
Wang said China hopes “through this visit that our two sides will continue to properly handle differences on sensitive issues on the basis of mutual respect.” Kerry, in response, said there are “enormously challenging issues in front of us” that he wants to discuss.
With North Korea preparing for a possible missile test, Kerry will ask Xi to make a greater effort to enforce UN sanctions, a State Department official said. Kerry also will urge China, which provides impoverished North Korea with fuel and consumer goods, to toughen its message to leaders in Pyongyang, according to the official, who briefed reporters accompanying Kerry on the condition of not being identified.
“China has an enormous ability to help make a difference here, and I hope that in our conversations, when I get there tomorrow, we’ll be able to lay out a path ahead that can defuse this tension,” Kerry said in a Seoul news conference with his South Korean counterpart, Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se.
The North Korea crisis is shaping up as a test for U.S.- China relations, as Kerry asks China to distance itself from a relationship that the late Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong decades ago called “as close as lips and teeth.”
It wasn’t clear whether Kerry was alluding to that when he told the American Chamber of Commerce in Seoul that he will tell Chinese officials “you’ve got to put some teeth” in their North Korea policy.
“There is no group of leaders on the face of the planet who have more capacity to make a difference in this than the Chinese, and everybody knows it, including, I believe, them,” Kerry said.
U.S. lawmakers say China remains too protective of its relationship with the North Korean regime.
“They are not doing what they can do and should do, and it’s been a real disappointment,” Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an interview on “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” airing this weekend on Bloomberg Television.
China is best-positioned to mitigate the North Korea problem, and should take strong action, such as cutting off fuel and luxury goods flowing into North Korea, said a Republican member of Congress, who asked not to be named because he has access to classified information.
China regards North Korea as a trading partner and strategic buffer with U.S.-backed South Korea, and China would face a massive refugee flow in the event of war or regime collapse.
Still, Kim, who gained power just over a year ago, doesn’t seem as adept at managing the China relationship as was his late father, Kim Jong Il, according to the U.S. lawmaker.
There are signs that China is developing “nuisance fatigue” toward North Korea, said Bruce Bennett, a defense analyst specializing in the Koreas at the Rand Corp., a research group based in Santa Monica, California.
The U.S. wants to persuade China that it’s in its own economic and political interests to reverse a long-standing practice of looking the other way on banned cross-border trade with its neighbor, said a second official traveling with Kerry.
Chinese exports to North Korea fell 13.8 percent to $720 million in the first three months of 2013, the China customs bureau reported. From December through February, exports of crude oil to North Korea rose 3 percent to 102,002 tons, or $107.7 million, according to Chinese data.
The $1.3 billion in two-way first-quarter trade between China and North Korea pales beside $63.3 billion between China and South Korea, according to Chinese customs figures.
North Korea may conduct a weapons test on April 15 to coincide with the 101st anniversary of state founder Kim Il Sung’s birth, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said April 11 in Seoul. A year ago today, North Korea fired a long-range missile that disintegrated shortly after liftoff, then successfully launched one in December.
The U.S. is “fully” to blame for the current tensions in the Korea Peninsula and its threats of using political, economic and military powers against North Korea have peaked, the totalitarian nation said in a commentary carried today by the official Korean Central News Agency.
The U.S. reaffirmed it will defend South Korea from its northern neighbor’s “unacceptable provocations” and “dangerous” nuclear and missile programs, according to a joint statement released today.
Both countries, whose alliance dates to the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War, said they were taking “prudent measures” in the wake of North Korea’s belligerence.
Speaking in Seoul with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun, Kerry yesterday said it would be a “huge mistake” for North Korea to test a missile. In addition, he said, the international community will not accept North Korea as a nuclear power.
“We have lowered our rhetoric significantly, and we are attempting to find a way for reasonableness to prevail here,” Kerry told reporters after meeting with Park and Yun. “We are seeking a partner to deal with in a rational and reasonable way.”
Park offered on April 11 to resume discussions with North Korea after weeks of threats to attack the U.S. and South Korea.
“Our preference would be to get back to talks,” Kerry said, either directly or through six-nation discussions from which North Korea withdrew.
Other U.S. officials are skeptical that Kim will respond to Park’s offer in less than six months, if at all, saying he’s still using threats of military action and weapons tests to consolidate his authority and secure recognition for North Korea as a nuclear power.
“It’s up to Kim Jong Un what he decides to do,” Kerry said. “It’s not going to change our position, which is very, very clear. We will defend our allies.”
Kerry is due to hold talks in Tokyo following his meeting in Beijing.
“Our hope is that in the next days, in my conversations in China and conversations in Japan, that we will find the unity necessary to provide a very different set of alternatives for how we can proceed and ultimately defuse this situation,” Kerry said.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at email@example.com