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S Korea, China pledge to boost diplomacy

Top Story

June 28, 2006


BEIJING: South Korea’s foreign minister on Tuesday urged China to use its influence over Pyongyang to dissuade the North from apparent plans to launch a long-range missile test, as the two countries agreed to step up diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue. But Western diplomats questioned China’s willingness to wield its influence over North Korea.

South Korea’s Ban Ki-moon and his Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing held closed-door talks for about an hour, discussing strategies to sway Pyongyang not to test-fire a missile and resume six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. “We should focus efforts on dissuading North Korea from test-firing a missile,” Li said.

Ban urged China to persuade North Korea against testing the missile, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, citing Lee Hyuck, director-general of the South’s Foreign Ministry’s Asia-Pacific affairs bureau. Lee attended on Tuesday’s talks.

China, a key provider of aid to impoverished North Korea, is believed to be the only country that has considerable leverage with the hard-line regime of Kim Jong Il. But since the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear programmes emerged in late 2002, China has largely refrained from threats to halt the fuel and food deliveries and bank credits that sustain Pyongyang.

Six-nation talks aimed at resolving the issue of North Korea’s nuclear programme have been stalled since November over a dispute surrounding US financial restrictions on the North. Western diplomats in Beijing, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, said China had not sent a special envoy to Pyongyang or otherwise intensified its diplomacy over the missile threat. Li told Ban that getting North Korea back to talks on its nuclear weapons ambitions was a top priority and that efforts should be focused on ensuring Pyongyang avoids firing a missile. Li said Beijing had discussed the reported missile test plans with Pyongyang, Yonhap

said, but did not give details. Ban left Beijing on Tuesday evening to return to Seoul, following a meeting with the Chinese Cabinet’s chief foreign affairs minister, State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan.

Meanwhile, North Korea on Tuesday said the United States was to blame for a “new nuclear arms race.”

“The US is the principal criminal of the present nuclear arms race, the very one who harasses world peace and security,” the North’s main newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in a commentary, according to the official Korea Central News Agency.