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Top North Korean, Chinese diplomats meet in Pyongyang amid stalled nuclear talks with US

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi addresses the media at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China, on January 27, 2016, amid a series of meetings between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and high-level Chinese officials focused on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and other regional issues. (U.S. State Department/Released)
September 04, 2019

The foreign ministers of China and North Korea have held talks in Pyongyang, with the two allies vowing to bolster bilateral ties and work closely on security issues amid the North’s stalled nuclear talks with the U.S.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and North Korean top diplomat Ri Yong Ho met Monday to discuss a wide range of issues, including regional security and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

Wang is in the North Korean capital for a three-day visit, and speculation has grown that the trip could be aimed at helping Pyongyang shore up its position in the nuclear talks while also laying the groundwork for a possible visit by leader Kim Jong Un to Beijing.

Kim and Xi have met five times, the latest summit coming in June, when the Chinese leader made his first visit to Pyongyang.

During Monday’s meeting, Wang was quoted as saying that China maintains its stance that it hopes to move forward friendly relations with the North, while also expressing a desire for closer international cooperation and communication in a number of fields.

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Apparently referring to Pyongyang’s stated shift in policy emphasizing economic development over building up its nuclear program, Wang noted that the North’s “new strategic line” has contributed to progress in a variety of areas while adding that “joint efforts” would lead to a brighter future for bilateral ties.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the neighbors, and Wang also emphasized that over the past seven decades, “no matter how the international situation changes,” China and the North “have always been in the same boat and stood shoulder to shoulder.”

Ri was quoted as saying that North Korea and China are opening a new era and reaffirming the North’s efforts to advance bilateral ties and cooperation.

The meeting comes as the nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington remain deadlocked since late June, when U.S. President Donald Trump held an impromptu meeting with Kim at the Demilitarized Zone at the two Koreas’ border. That meeting ended with the two promising to return to the talks in the near future, but a restart has yet to happen.

While talks have been on ice, the North has conducted a total of at least 11 apparent ballistic missile launches overseen by Kim this year, including eight in the last five weeks. The pace comes close to matching the frantic speed of testing in 2017, when Trump and Kim traded insults and threats.

North Korea has also unleashed a barrage of criticism at the Trump administration, including a statement last week that said expectations for the talks “are fading away” after “offensive” remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“To avoid terrible regrets, the United States should not test our patience with offensive comments,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui as saying Saturday in reference to remarks by Pompeo.

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In a speech apparently intended to highlight the global challenges facing the Trump administration, Pompeo had referred to North Korea’s “rogue” behavior.

Chinese state-run media, too, has joined in the criticism, accusing Pompeo of “speaking the diplomatic lingo while wagging his tongue as he likes.”

In an editorial Monday, the state-run China Daily newspaper also blasted what it said was an unwillingness by Washington “to sustain the constructive atmosphere with any tangible and cooperative moves.”

Both China and the North have repeatedly urged the U.S. to scale back its “maximum pressure” policy and engage in a reciprocal, phased approach to the nuclear issue.

Specifically, Beijing has proposed that the United States and South Korea stop major military exercises in exchange for North Korea halting its weapons programs, a concept known as a “dual suspension” or “freeze-for-freeze.”

Monday’s editorial claimed that recent joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises, as well as “the inaction of the U.S.” is “gradually closing the window of opportunity for talks with the DPRK.”

DPRK is the acronym for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“Turning a deaf ear to China’s dual suspension suggestion, Washington’s superstitious belief in the power of its ‘maximum pressure’ tactics as being the art of a deal will not win it any advantages, but only push the Korean Peninsula situation back to where it was before Pyongyang and Washington started talking,” the editorial added.

Asked if there is any room for moderating Washington’s stance and taking up the dual-suspension suggestion, the U.S. State Department did not directly answer the question.

“We have seen reports of State Councilor Wang’s visit to the DPRK,” a spokesperson told The Japan Times in an email. “We will continue to closely coordinate with allies and partners, and other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, including China.”

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© 2019 the Japan Times