Tue, Jul 26, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Chinese and North Korean envoys hold talks in Laos

AFP, VIENTIANE

Bodyguards and security try to stop reporters from mobbing new North Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong-ho, center left, with glasses and partially obscured, as he leaves the National Convention Center after meeting with Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi at the ASEAN-China meeting in Vientiane, Laos, yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Top envoys from China and North Korea held talks yesterday on the sidelines of an ASEAN summit in Laos as tensions run high on the Korean Peninsula over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

North Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong-ho, a former nuclear negotiator for the state, and Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) met in the capital, Vientiane.

It is the first time Ri has attended a major diplomatic gathering since his appointment in May.

A phalanx of security guards from both Laos and North Korea guarded the room where the meeting was taking place.

Relations between Beijing and Pyongyang have frayed this year after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test and a series of missile launches put the region on edge.

In response to the new tests — the most recent of which was on Tuesday last week — Washington and Seoul announced plans to deploy a US missile defense system in South Korea, sparking fury in Pyongyang and concern in Beijing.

In the face of continued North Korean provocation, the US spearheaded the drafting of a new UN resolution adopted unanimously in March by Security Council members, including China — North Korea’s main diplomatic protector and economic benefactor.

Washington has since urged China to use its leverage over Pyongyang to implement tougher sanctions and push the reclusive state toward bankruptcy, but Beijing is wary of pushing the North too far, fearing a regime collapse that could create a refugee crisis on its border and swing the regional balance of power toward the US.

Last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) stressed the importance of “friendly relations” with the North at a meeting with a top North Korean official.

North Korea formally withdrew in 2009 from six-party talks with South Korea, the US, Russia, China and Japan that were aimed at tackling the nuclear issue.

Beijing wants the talks revived, but Washington, Seoul and Tokyo all insist Pyongyang must first take some tangible step toward denuclearization.

Beijing previously acted as a buffer between Pyongyang and the other five members, using cash to lure North Korea back to the negotiating table.

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