The North Korean nuclear crisis is at a crossroads and Washington and Pyongyang should hold direct talks as soon as possible.
That was the message Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered when he met Chung Eui-yong, top security adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday, Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily reported.
Xi also urged the main players to be patient and cautious in dealing with the challenges and distractions of any negotiations ahead.
The meeting came just days after Chung headed a delegation to Pyongyang and Washington as part of a push by Seoul to have an inter-Korea summit by the end of April.
“China has been calling for both South and North Korea to improve their relationship, push for reconciliation and cooperation, and support dialogue between North Korea and the United States,” Xi was quoted as saying.
“We look forward to the smooth organisation of the South-North leaders meeting and dialogue between North Korea and the US.”
Another envoy, South Korean National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon, also arrived in Tokyo for a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
In a surprising move after months of heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula, US President Donald Trump agreed on Thursday to a face-to-face meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to discuss Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.
According to the South Korean delegation, Kim expressed willingness to give up his country’s nuclear weapons in return for assurances of his regime’s safety.
Renmin University Korean affairs specialist Cheng Xiaohe said Chung’s visit to Beijing could be “a very good opportunity” for Beijing to understand what Pyongyang needed for a commitment to abandon its weapons programme.
“North Korea mentioned an assurance of the regime’s safety … and China needs the South Korean side to help clarify that so it knows what to do to meet those needs … as well as how North Korea plans to denuclearise,” Cheng said.
As Pyongyang’s patron and biggest trading partner, Beijing might also need to clarify its role in denuclearisation, if North Korea’s ultimate goal was to end the severe sanctions imposed on the country in the past year over a series of ballistic missiles and nuclear tests, he said.
International Crisis Group said that while regional observers were sceptical that Pyongyang would change its strategic course and give up its nuclear weapons, no country wanted to miss a diplomacy opportunity which, at a minimum, could lower tensions on the peninsula.
Cheng also said that while Beijing’s role in the leaders’ summits may be limited, “it’s hard for North Korea to ignore China as China remains its neighbour and a country with veto power at the United Nations Security Council”.