US Secretary of State John Kerry has praised China for joining with the US in calling for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program. But there are regional issues risking conflict.
Kerry held meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other senior officials including Premier Li Keqiang and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on Friday. He confirmed the Obama administration's commitment to refocusing US foreign policy on the Asia-Pacific region.
Speaking to reporters afterwards, Kerry praised China for efforts with its communist-led neighbor North Korea and urged Beijing to "use every tool at its disposal" to convince Pyongyang to return to long-stalled disarmament talks.
North Korea "must take meaningful, concrete and irreversible steps toward verifiable denuclearization and it needs to begin now," Kerry said. "China could not have more forcefully reiterated its commitment to that goal, its interest in achieving that goal and its concerns about not achieving that goal."
However, the extent of China's influence over North Korea is unclear following the recent leadership purge, including the December arrest and execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's uncle, Jang Song Thaek. He had played a key role in relations with China and had promoted the free-trade zones being set up along the two countries' border.
In the face of opposition from China, North Korea conducted a nuclear missile test in late 2012, followed by an underground detonation of a nuclear device last spring.
Despite such difficulties, Kerry said: "China has a unique and critical role that it can play. No country has a greater potential to influence North Korea's behavior than China, given their extensive trading relationship with the North."
Despite Kerry's upbeat approach and presentation, there remain regional difficulties, most especially between China and Japan.
Beijing is engaged in a territorial dispute with Tokyo over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that are called the Diaoyu in China and the Senkaku in Japan.
China also raised concern in November last year when it unilaterally declared an air defense zone over a large area of the East China Sea, which both Japan and the US refused to recognize.
On 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: "The United States has to know that, while Beijing has always been trying to address territorial brawls with some neighboring countries through peaceful means, it will not hesitate to take steps to secure its key national security interests according to China's sovereign rights."
In response, Kerry said he told the Chinese of the "need to establish a calmer, more rule-of-law based, less confrontational approach" with respect to its territorial disputes.
jm/hc (Reuters, AP)