China called for direct dialogue between North Korea and the United States to defuse tensions on the Korean peninsula and warned there was still the potential for chaos amid the stand-off over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.
The warning by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday came despite the announcement that North and South Korea’s leaders are to meet at a summit, raising hopes that the nuclear crisis might be defused.
“History tells us that whenever tensions over the Korean peninsula subside, the situation will be clouded by various interference,” Wang said during a press conference on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress in Beijing. “We have now again come to a crucial moment for testing whether the parties involved are truly sincere in resolving the Korean peninsula nuclear issue.”
Wang said all sides involved should demonstrate their political courage and make correct political judgments to continue efforts to alleviate tensions.
“The United States and North Korea must engage in dialogue as soon as possible,” he said.
The South China Morning Post reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may propose sending his sister, Kim Yo-jong, to the US as part of efforts to launch direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang.
This may be one of a number of possible messages South Korean envoy Chung Eui-yong will deliver to US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster in Washington this week, a South Korean diplomatic source told the Post, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Chung is travelling to Washington with South Korea’s national intelligence service chief Suh Hoon, who, according to multiple South Korean diplomatic sources, will meet his US counterpart Mike Pompeo.
Kim Yo-jong, the North Korean leader’s younger sister, spearheaded a charm offensive for Pyongyang when she attended the start of the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang in South Korea last month and invited South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang.
Wang said engagement between the two Koreas was an “important step in the right direction”.
The fact that North Korea did not conduct nuclear and missile tests during the Winter Olympics, while South Korea and the United States have suspended their military drills, proved that China’s approach to handle the nuclear crisis was effective, Wang said.
Beijing has called for South Korea and the US to stop military exercises in exchange for North Korea not conducting nuclear tests.
Wang Sheng, a North Korean affairs expert from Jilin University, said talks between Washington and Pyongyang were vital to de-escalate the situation.
“What China and South Korea can do at the moment is very limited, and existing measures such as the rounds of sanctions have proven to be of little help – the US really holds the key,” Wang said.
“As to the ‘interference’, that mainly comes from the US. Its joint military exercises near the peninsula and persistent calls to toughen sanctions against Pyongyang, more often than not, worsen the crisis.”
Cui Zhiying, director of the Korean Peninsula Research Centre at Tongji University in Shanghai, said North Korea had already softened its stance and showed it was willing to negotiate.
“It has been China’s consistent stance to call for more dialogue, whether it’s direct or indirect, between the US and North Korea – as long as it can help resolve the nuclear crisis,” Cui said.
Additional reporting by Kristin Huang