China told visiting US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg that the two big powers should cooperate more in defusing tension over North Korea, playing down discord over how to rein in Pyongyang.
China’s top diplomat, Dai Bingguo (戴秉國), urged closer coordination over the Korean Peninsula during talks with Steinberg, the second-most senior official in the US Department of State, Xinhua news agency reported yesterday.
However, at the same time that China urged cooperation, Pyongyang’s Uriminzokkiri Web site warned that because of Seoul’s policies it was now a question of “when war will break out” rather than whether it would.
“If war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, it will spread to a nuclear war and it will not be limited to the Korean Peninsula,” said the outlet that is run by the North’s propaganda machine, but is not considered the official voice of the country’s leadership.
North Korea frequently makes bellicose threats against its far richer southern neighbor.
Steinberg was in Beijing for three days up to yesterday to press China to do more to bring to heel its ally, North Korea, which last month sparked alarm by shelling a South Korean island and disclosing advances in uranium enrichment, which could give it a new path to make nuclear weapons.
China has avoided publicly condemning its long-time ally over the deadly shelling and nuclear moves, and instead has pleaded with other powers to embrace fresh talks with North Korea.
Dai made the case again to Steinberg on Thursday, but there were no signs the US has shifted from its demand that North Korea first make real steps to end confrontation and restart nuclear disarmament.
“We need easing not tensions, dialogue and not confrontation,” Dai told him, according to Xinhua and a statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry Web site.
“China and the United States should enhance coordination and cooperation, and promote renewed negotiations, including dialogue between North and South Korea,” Dai said. “The six-party talks are the only correct channel for settling problems on the peninsula and achieving enduring peace and stability in northeast Asia.”
Beijing wants the six governments involved in stalled talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear ambitions — China, the US, Japan, Russia and both Koreas — to meet and discuss how to ease tensions.
The US embassy in Beijing said in a brief statement that Steinberg had “useful conversations” in Beijing about North Korea and he also discussed Chinese President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) state visit to the US next month. It gave no more details.
The US and its regional allies, Japan and South Korea, have all urged Beijing to do more to rein in North Korea, which depends on China for economic and diplomatic backing.
China worries that more pressure on North Korea could unleash fresh tension on its border. US officials have said China’s hands-off approach merely encourages North Korea to pursue confrontation.
Washington, Seoul and Tok-yo have been cool on Beijing’s proposal for talks, worried they could be seen as allowing North Korea back into the diplomatic fold without making any real concessions.
In a sign of how far away fresh talks remain, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported that when China’s Dai went to Pyongyang this month, North Korea said that removing UN sanctions was a precondition for its return to the six-party talks. The paper cited an unidentified source close to the talks.