|Kerry leans on Beijing to nudge Pyongyang on nukes
US Secretary of State John Kerry appealed for China's help in bringing a belligerent North Korea back to nuclear disarmament talks but faced an uncertain response as the request was accompanied by demands for Beijing to roll back a series of increasingly aggressive steps it has taken to assert itself in territorial disputes with its smaller neighbors.
Kerry opened a 24-hour visit in Beijing by meeting China’s President Xi Jinping (Pictured) at the Great Hall of the People and was later to see other senior officials as he sought to underscore the Obama administration's commitment to refocusing US foreign policy on the Asia-Pacific amid myriad other global priorities. Kerry planned to address issues ranging from climate change to Syria and Iran with his Chinese hosts, AP reports.
Yet, he faces a decidedly tough sell on both of his main agenda items: North Korea and regional tensions that have flared, particularly with Japan over conflicting maritime claims.
For one, the extent of China's influence, and willingness to use it, with North Korea is unclear following a purge in the isolated country's leadership.
And, China has angrily dismissed UScriticism over its moves in the East and South China seas that have alarmed US allies like Japan and Philippines.
In a stridently anti-Japanese editorial today, Xinhua 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,'' Xinhua said.
“To dial down the flaring regional tensions, what Washington is expected to do right at the moment is not to blame China but press Japan to call off its provocative moves.''
In Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday, Kerry said the Obama administration wants to put new emphasis on getting North Korea back to stalled six-nation talks aimed at getting Pyongyang to give up nuclear weapons.
“Let me be clear,'' he told reporters. “The United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state. We will not accept talks for the sake of talks. And the DPRK must show that it will negotiate and live up to its commitments regarding denuclearization.''
Efforts toward that end, he said, would rely heavily on China, North Korea's only friend, putting pressure on Pyongyang.
“China has a unique and critical role that it can play,'' Kerry said. “No country has a greater potential to influence North Korea's behavior than China, given their extensive trading relationship with the North.''
But China's leverage with the North is being tested.
Diplomats say Beijing received no prior warning ahead of the December arrest and execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who had been considered Pyongyang's point man on China affairs and was a strong promoter of free trade zones being set up along their mutual border.
Jang's removal was seen as depriving Beijing of its chief conduit into the North Korean regime and in the weeks that followed the leadership found itself at a loss as to how to proceed. A delegation of Chinese diplomats led by the Foreign Ministry's deputy head of Asian affairs visited Pyongyang last week in a sign that Beijing was attempting to renew dialogue with Kim's government, although it remains to be seen whether the North was any more receptive to China's pleas to return to the nuclear talks.
Meanwhile, as Kerry tries to prod the Chinese on North Korea, he will also be delivering a stern message on the competing territorial claims and China's bitter dispute with Japan.
His audience _ including Xi, Premier Li Keqiang, Vice President Li Yuanchao, State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi _ may be even tougher on those issues.