China and the United States should set aside their differences to help break the deadlock in the North Korea nuclear talks, a former Chinese foreign vice-minister said, while also calling for a renewal of dialogue with Pyongyang.
The comments by Fu Ying came after US President Donald Trump on Monday urged North Korea to return to the negotiations on how to achieve a “final, fully verified denuclearisation”.
Talks between Washington and Pyongyang have been on hold since a failed summit in Hanoi between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in February 2019 and a brief encounter four months later at the demilitarised zone in Panmunjom.
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Pyongyang has so far refused to resume working-level negotiations, citing the lack of progress in the talks, and Washington’s refusal to provide security guarantees and relief from the United Nations sanctions led by the US.
In an article published on Thursday by state-owned news website The Paper, Fu, who is now head of Tsinghua University’s centre for international security and strategy, gave a brief account of how China started mediation in 2003 at the request of then US president George W Bush and helped kick-start the now defunct six-party denuclearisation talks.
“[It] has become a new opportunity for China and the US to cooperate on important international issues,” said Fu, who attended the talks as head of the foreign ministry’s Asian affairs department.
She lamented the fact that the decline in US-China relations had severely hindered their willingness to continue their cooperation on key regional and global issues, like North Korea, which had in the past helped stabilise their own turbulent ties.
“The overall nature and atmosphere of Sino-US relations is changing, with the American side pushing for strategic competition. Despite uncertainties over [the future of bilateral ties], our international cooperation will inevitably be affected,” she said.
Despite Beijing’s wariness of Pyongyang’s push for recognition as a de facto nuclear-armed state, the former diplomat reiterated the Chinese government’s official line of throwing its weight behind Kim and putting much of the blame on the US for the impasse in the nuclear talks.
She indicated that the fate of the denuclearisation talks hinged on the US adjusting its own thinking, saying that Washington’s refusal to acknowledge Pyongyang’s security concerns and its obsession with a regime change in North Korea were the cause of the stalemate on the Korean peninsula.
Analysts said Fu’s views were in line with the appeals by China’s top diplomats, including Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who has urged the US to resume its cooperation with China on global issues such as North Korea, Iran and climate change, despite their tensions.
During a visit to South Korea last month, China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi said China was “willing to play a constructive role in advancing the political solution of the Korean peninsula issue together with all parties concerned”.
Although relations between the communist neighbours have deteriorated in recent years over Kim’s repeated nuclear provocations, China still sees North Korea as an important leverage in its foreign policy, especially when its relations with the US are at an all-time low.
The coronavirus pandemic has deepened North Korea’s economic and diplomatic isolation, leaving it more dependent than ever on China to provide diplomatic support and an economic lifeline.
While China and Russia have made repeated calls for sanctions relief for North Korea, Zhang Liangui, a North Korea specialist at the Central Party School in Beijing, said China was unlikely to significantly increase trade and economic aid to its neighbour amid risks of breaching international sanctions and further alienating the US.
More from South China Morning Post:
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- Book reveals how North Korea’s Kim wooed Trump with flattery-filled letters
- The Korean war: China’s reminder of strength against the US