BEIJING (AP) — The Chinese and South Korean presidents called Thursday for a swift resumption of six-nation North Korean nuclear disarmament talks after a summit that brought together Pyongyang’s archrival and its biggest ally.
President Park Geun-hye’s four-day visit marks her first formal discussions with the new Chinese administration led by President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. Talks will also focus on booming economic ties between the two countries, highlighted by the unusually large, high-powered trade delegation traveling with Park.
The meetings are seen as piling further pressure on the North to rejoin the talks, and Xi said improving conditions on the peninsula boded well for new discussions.
“We hope all sides can seize this opportunity to work to return to the six-party talks as soon as possible,” Xi told reporters after his talks with Park at the Great Hall of the People, the seat of the legislature in the heart of Beijing.
Park said the sides agreed on the need to prevent North Korea having nuclear weapons “under any circumstances” and to “preserve the peace and stability of Korean Peninsula.”
The two also witnessed the signing of agreements on energy cooperation, trade and other areas.
Park, a self-taught Mandarin speaker, has said she is keen to enlist China’s leaders in the drive for new North Korean denuclearization discussions that would also include the U.S., Russia, and Japan.
The China-hosted talks with Pyongyang have been stalled since 2009 over the question of how to verify that North Korea is fulfilling its commitments to dismantle its nuclear facilities.
Park was scheduled to meet Li on Friday.
The calls for new talks follow China’s frustration with its neighbor and longstanding communist ally for having ramped up tensions with last year’s long-range missile launch and February’s third nuclear weapon test.
Beijing showed its displeasure by supporting tightened U.N. sanctions and cracking down on North Korean banking activity.
While China is North Korea’s biggest source of diplomatic and economic support, China’s trade and other interactions with the South are far larger and more diverse. Ordinary Chinese are also big fans of South Korean pop culture and high-tech wares, and there is a growing sentiment among urban intellectuals that China should not sacrifice international credibility for the sake of coddling Pyongyang.
Despite the pressure to rejoin talks, Kim Jong Un’s mercurial North Korean regime appears to remain wary.
Park has said that any resumption of talks must be preceded by signs that the North is serious about following through on its disarmament commitments, echoing the position of the U.S. Washington does not want to be drawn into talks that serve only to relieve pressure on Pyongyang, provide it a platform to seek much-needed aid, and buy it more time to further its nuclear weapons program.
Yet, after top North Korean negotiator Kim Kye Gwan visited Beijing earlier this month for talks, Chinese analysts said Pyongyang seemed more interested in improving its damaged ties with China than in swiftly moving toward new six-nation talks.
While Beijing has remained neutral over recent developments, Chinese scholars say Xi’s government will seek an intermediary role to create conditions for a restoration of talks. They warn, however, that Beijing would oppose harsher sanctions or other measures that could spark a backlash from Pyongyang or further destabilize the regime of the young and inexperienced Kim, who took over following his father’s death 18 months ago.
“It’s very hard to say whether the meeting will produce any new proposals, but, following the third nuclear test, I think China and every other country involved realizes the seriousness of the need to get North Korea back into talks,” said Zhang Liangui, a researcher with the ruling Communist Party’s main research and training institute in Beijing.
Park’s visit should also help smooth over strains in ties between China and South Korea over China’s refusal to criticize Pyongyang following the sinking of a South Korean navy ship in early 2010 and shelling of one of its islands by a North Korean artillery unit later that year.
Park’s appreciation for Chinese culture should also help foster positive relations. The Beijing stage of her trip, which includes meetings with business groups and a speech to university students, is to be followed by a stop at the ancient capital of Xi’an, a cultural hub that is a favorite destination for South Korean investors.
Park is traveling with a record 71-strong business delegation, highlighting the close economic ties that have lifted China above the U.S. as South Korea’s top trading partner. Two-way trade hit $215 billion last year, with South Korea’s exports of semiconductors, mobile phones, cars and industrial products giving it a trade surplus of more than $50 billion.
Business delegates include leaders of South Korean industry, including the chairmen of Hyundai Motor Group and LG Group.