China presses for nuclear talks in last days till North Korea’s deadline for US

Keegan Elmer

Chinese President Xi Jinping has again stressed the need for tensions on the Korean peninsula to be resolved through dialogue, as the deadline looms in North Korea’s threat to give the United States an unwelcome “Christmas gift”.

With just over a week to go until Pyongyang’s year-end deadline for Washington to change what it says a policy of hostility, Xi held separate talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Beijing on Monday.

Moon and Abe will also join Chinese Premier Li Keqiang for a trilateral summit in Chengdu, Sichuan province, on Tuesday.

The first trilateral leadership talks took place in 2008, but were not held in 2013 and 2014, or in 2016 and 2017.

Xi said China and South Korea “both insist on maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula, and advocate solving problems through dialogue and consultation”, state news agency Xinhua reported on Monday.

“China supports South Korea in continuing to improve its relationship with North Korea, and injecting impetus for the Korean peninsula peace talks,” the report said.

Moon said the suspension of talks between the US and North Korea and heightened tensions along the peninsula “are not beneficial to both our countries and North Korea”, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Moon also said that China had played an “important role” in efforts for the denuclearise the peninsula, the report said.

North Korea has signalled impatience over the stalled talks with the US, and the fading hopes for an end to Washington’s economic sanctions.

In April, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that he would “wait” until the end of the year to decide whether the US had the “right attitude” to allow a resumption of negotiations, but no signs of further talks have emerged.

Then earlier this month Pyongyang warned that Washington would receive a “Christmas gift”, and US actions would determine whether the present would be good or bad.

In an apparent sign of frustration with the US, North Korean news agency KCNA reported on Sunday that Kim held a meeting of the Workers’ Party of Korea to “bolster the overall armed forces of the country” to deal with the “the fast-changing situation”.

The US imposed crippling sanctions on North Korea’s economy in 2017, though many countries, including China, South Korea and Japan, have also tightened measures against the North.

South Korea and Japan both scaled back people-to-people links in 2016, China banned coal exports to the North in 2017. Earlier this year, Trump thanked China and Russia for maintaining sanctions against Pyongyang.

As diplomats make last-ditch attempts to stop renewed confrontation, US special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun shuttled around the region last week, meeting senior officials in China, South Korea and Japan. Biegun urged North Korea to return to negotiations, and said the US “does not have a deadline” for talks.

China and Russia also proposed last week that the United Nations Security Council lift some sanctions, saying it was necessary to break the deadlock.

Xi’s meeting with Moon also comes as Beijing tries to mend ties with Seoul to prevent neighbouring nations from getting closer to Washington.

Relations between China and South Korea deteriorated in 2017 after Seoul deployed a US-led missile defence system known as THAAD, which Beijing deemed as a security threat to its own territory.

On Monday, both Xi and Moon said in their meeting that they looked forward to improving relations between their countries.

“We have been friends and partners that have continued close cooperation,” Xi said. “We have a wide range of common understandings in various fields, including on further developing bilateral relations, facilitating regional peace, stability and prosperity, and defending multilateralism and a free trade system.”

Sun Xingjie, a North Korea specialist at Jilin University, said the US signal was “very clear” in Beigun’s comments.

“They still want to continue discussions,” he said.

Sun also said the talks in Chengdu on Tuesday would likely play an important role in the future of resolving problems on the Korean peninsula.

“After returning to the platform these last couple years, I believe this will become an important, normalised place for discussions. Whatever problems they run into, the platform should continue to move forward,” Sun said.

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