China’s Xi Urges N.Korea to Return to 6-Party Nuclear Talks

Chinese President Xi Jinping yesterday urged North Korea to return to six-nation talks aimed at resolving its disputed nuclear program, the state-backed China News Service reported.

Lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula is what people want and is the trend of the times, the report quoted Xi as saying. China’s very clear position is that all involved parties should stick to the objective of denuclearization and resolve disputes through dialogue and consultation, Xi told North Korean military envoy Choe Ryong Hae, who delivered a handwritten letter from Kim Jong Un, the report said.

“I think the Chinese took advantage of the opportunity to be able to express their displeasure with the regime, but also give them some kind of bone to hopefully prevent them from going beyond the provocation cycle,” said David S. Maxwell, associate director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

As the North’s chief political and economic patron, China has come under pressure to rein in Kim’s regime, which in March threatened nuclear strikes against South Korea and the U.S. Choe’s visit may signal that North Korea is looking to ease tensions as it backs off its bellicose rhetoric from recent months.

Xi said all the parties involved should restart the process of the six-party talks, which collapsed in 2008, to achieve denuclearization on the Korean peninsula and safeguard peace and stability in Northeast Asia, according to the report. The talks brought together officials of North and South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

‘Heated’ Conversation

“The concluding paragraph of the Chinese statement is a strong indicator that the conversation was probably ‘heated,’ not just ‘warm,’” wrote U.S. intelligence analyst John McCreary, an expert on Northeast Asia, in his May 22 NightWatch newsletter, published by Kforce Government Solutions Inc. of Fairfax, Virginia. “The next round of appointments Choe makes or does not make will provide important insights as to the state of China’s relations with North Korea.”

Choe, 63, is the highest-ranking North Korean official to visit China since Kim succeeded his late father Kim Jong Il as the nation’s leader in 2011. He holds the second-highest rank in the military after Kim and rose to prominence in October 2010, when he was named to serve as Kim’s guardian.

In an earlier meeting with the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, Choe said North Korea was willing to “find ways to resolve the current conflicts via dialogues,” the official Xinhua News Agency said.

More Pain

“This is North Korea’s way to say ‘Ouch, you’ve got us,’” said Paul Haenle, a former White House National Security Council official who now directs the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing. “‘You’ve turned up the pain and we feel it. Now we are coming to you to let you know that you have leverage.’”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking to reporters today while on a visit to Myanmar, said there’s no clear prospect at present for reviving the six-party talks, the Asahi newspaper reported today. Japan will cooperate with the U.S. and South Korea, Abe said, adding there’s no immediate grounds for beginning talks between Japan and North Korea.

Dependent on China

North Korea depends on China for fuel oil and consumer goods, and trade between the two has declined since the North defied United Nations sanctions with a rocket launch in December and a nuclear test in February. The regime fired six short-range missiles between May 18 and 20, and freed a Chinese fishing vessel and its crew on May 21 after China filed a formal complaint over the detention.

China’s statement reiterated its position on four items that Kim’s government has rejected publicly, including eliminating all nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula and the six-nation talks, wrote McCreary.

“Kim Jong Un in his personal letter underlined the need to carry forward and consolidate the traditional DPRK-China friendship,” the official Korean Central News Agency said yesterday. DPRK is the nation’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The U.S. and South Korea said it was too early to tell if Choe’s visit marked a step forward in efforts to restart the six-party talks.

“We’re committed to keeping the five parties of the six-party process very much united and focused on denuclearization and our core goal in that regard,” U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said May 23.

Xi, Obama

Xi is due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama in California next month in their first face-to-face talks since China’s power transition ended in March. Secretary of State John Kerry met last month in Beijing with officials including Xi and said afterward China is “very serious” about trying to bring North Korea in line.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said the meeting between Xi Jinping and the North Korean envoy generated “positive momentum”, Xinhua reported yesterday.

“At this time, I am particularly appreciative of the Chinese leadership and government to facilitate this very positive momentum which has been generated through their bilateral talks,” Xinhua quoted Ban as saying.

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