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US foreign secretary Kerry in China for talks on North Korea, regional disputes

US Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Beijing. He is expected to press officials to use their influence in North Korea, as well to discourage them from territorial disputes in the East China Sea.

On the second day of his Asia tour, the United States' top diplomat, John Kerry, met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The latest round of talks held at the Great Hall of the People was expected to focus on China's power on the continent, both positive and negative.

A press conference has been scheduled for mid day local time Friday.

Kerry is expected to press Beijing for more diplomatic support as Washington and Seoul work toward ensuring a denuclearized North Korea.

At a press conference in Seoul on Thursday, Kerry recalled Beijing's role in helping defuse tensions on the Korean peninsula last year as diplomatic relations neared a breaking point.

"No country has a greater potential to influence North Korea's behavior than China, given their extensive trading relationship with the North," Kerry said, speaking alongside his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se.

"[However], China can do more now to urge North Korea to begin taking action to come into compliance with its international obligations," Kerry added.

Last year, Kim Jong Un lobbed threats of a nuclear attack at the South and its allies in response to joint military drills with the US, which take place annually. The incident led to the shutdown of the joint industrial zone Kaesong. The reopening of the shared business operation last fall helped mend relations, paving the way for scheduled reunions of families divided by the Korean War.

However, the Korean peninsula appears to be experiencing a déjà vu of this time last year. This week's first high-level talks between the neighboring nations in several years saw North Korea threaten to cancel the family reunions if South Korea and the US carry out their annual military exercises this month.

Trouble brewing in the East China Sea

US officials have said the diplomatic trip to Beijing was meant to convey that "the United States is committed to pursuing a positive, cooperative, comprehensive relationship" with China. Nevertheless, Secretary of State Kerry planned to address Beijing's territorial disputes in the East China Sea, which have made headlines this year.

Over the past year, China engaged repeatedly in a prolonged argument with Tokyo over a series of islands - known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan - to which both lay claim. The spat has raised concerns over Beijing's military objectives.

Before departing for the Chinese capital, the US foreign diplomat confirmed to reporters that the US would be obliged to intervene on Japan's behalf if it were attacked by a third country.

"That is the position of the United States with respect to those islands," Kerry said.

But in a stridently anti-Japanese editorial appearing Friday, China's official Xinhua News Agency said the US must pressure Tokyo into ceasing its "provocative moves" or risk a regional conflict in the future.

Air space controversy

During his meeting with Chinese leaders on Friday, the US secretary of state is also expected to discuss Beijing's declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over parts of the East China Sea. Critics worry that the move will would restrict access to the resource-rich waters shared with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Washington has pressed both the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China to form a binding code of conduct for the affected region in order to hinder maritime disputes.

"The United States neither recognizes nor accepts China's declared East China Sea ADIZ, and the United States has no intention of changing how we conduct operations in the region," Kerry said. The comments came during a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Washington last week.

The US foreign secretary is also expected to address the territorial dispute and the issue of agreeing to a code of conduct during the last leg of his tour in Jakarta.

Kerry's visit to Asia is his fifth since becoming US secretary of state. The latest tour has the potential to help Washington deliver on its promise of refreshing diplomatic relations with its Pacific neighbors. Both President Barack Obama and John Kerry have faced criticism from Asian leaders for neglecting those relationships.

In October, Obama cancelled his visit to two Asian summits due to a government shutdown in Washington. The US foreign secretary, for his part, has devoted a large portion of his time to negotiating a framework for Middle East peace talks.

kms/crh (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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