BEIJING — After a day of diplomatic talks with Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Saturday, Chinese authorities claimed they are committed to working "peacefully" toward the goal of getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.
"We maintain that the issue should be handled and resolved peacefully through dialogue and consultation," China's State Councilor Yang Jiechi said on Saturday evening in Beijing while sitting beside Mr. Kerry at a restaurant in the Chinese Capitol.
"To promptly address the Korean nuclear issue serves the common interests of all parties," said Mr. Yang. "It is also the shared responsibility of all parties."
The remarks created the appearance of fresh unity between Beijing and Washington, where the Obama administration hoped that Mr. Kerry would be able to convince Chinese leaders to take a more active role in encouraging North Korea to tone down its recent nuclear threats.
Mr. Yang, however, took care to avoid making any specific commitments with regard to actions China is willing to take to pressure the North Korean military or the nation's 28-year-old leader Kim Jong-un to give up the nation's nuclear arsenal and back away from the recent wave of antagonistic posturing.
Instead, Mr. Yang said China is committed to "advancing the de-nuclearization process on the peninsula" and to working with "relevant parties, including the United States" toward promoting a new round of so-called "six party talks" on North Korea.
The multi-nation talks, which included representatives from China, the United States, Japan, Russia and North Korea have broken down during recent years amidst North Korean belligerence over its nuclear program.
In appearing with Mr. Kerry Saturday, Mr. Yang said China remains committed to goals set out in the landmark Sept. 19, 2005 joint statement of the six party talks, which asserted outright that North Korea had "committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs."
Mr. Yang made the comments moments after Mr. Kerry said Washington also desires to see through the "goal" of the 2005 statement. The secretary of state said China and the United States had agreed Saturday to "have further discussions, to bear down very quickly, with great specificity on exactly how we will accomplish this goal."
Later on Saturday night, Mr. Kerry said he believed it had been an "extremely constructive and positive day" of meetings in Beijing.
But it was not entirely clear whether Chinese authorities had actually agreed to do anything truly new with regard to their posture toward North Korea and the possibility that Pyongyang may move to make either a test or targeted missile launch.
Asked for specifics, Mr. Kerry asserted firmly that China and the U.S. "both called on North Korea to refrain from any provocative steps and that obviously includes any further missile shoot."
"We don't want to get into ... some kind of confrontational language here," he said. "There's been enough of that."
"China and the United States today recommitted ourselves to find a peaceful solution and we say to Kim Jong-un and to the government of [North Korea] that they have an obvious choice here, which is to join us in the effort to try to find a negotiated resolution."
Foreign policy insiders say China's potential leverage over Pyongyang is rooted in trade and military ties that Beijing has quietly maintained with its smaller neighbor -- all while the international community has sought to isolate North Korea through the imposition of U.N. sanctions aimed at containing its nuclear threat.
The effort by U.S. leaders to push on China to pressure Pyongyang to tone down it's rhetoric and come back to the international negotiating table is not new.
Last year, President Obama urged former Chinese President Hu Jintao to call on North Korea to abandon plans it had at the time to carry out a rocket lunch.
Under newly appointed Chinese President Xi Jingping, who replaced Mr. Hu this year, there have been signs that Beijing may now be more ready to work with Washington on North Korea -- particularly in light of the recent escalation in tensions.
While he did not mention the nation by name, during a speech last week Mr. Xi appeared to be speaking of North Korea when he said that "no one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains."
Ahead of Saturday's talks, analysts told The Washington Times that Mr. Kerry's best strategy may be to attempt to build on that momentum along with China's decision to side with Washington last month in supporting the most recent U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea.
A key point in the sanctions call on U.N. member countries — including China, which shares an 880-mile border with North Korea — to "inspect all cargo" exiting or entering the nation if there are "reasonable grounds to believe" the cargo contains military equipment or materials the could be used to make nuclear weapons.
The question on the minds of some foreign policy experts in Washington is the extent to which China is actually enforcing such measures.
Asked specifically on Saturday whether he believed Pyongyang could have achieved its current nuclear capability without a flow of materials and transactions across the North Korea-China border, Mr. Kerry responded that he did not "want to get into any classified information."
He went on to say there was no "insinuation that it is China" who has helped North Korean obtain its nuclear capability. "There are plenty of places in the world where we know proliferation is taking place," Mr. Kerry added, citing Pakistan and Iran and two possibilities.
"I think it's inappropriate for me to speak for China and I think the Chinese over time will speak as they deem it necessary and appropriate," the secretary of state said. "It's up to them to tell you what and when and how, but there's no question in my mind that China is very serious, very serious, about denuclearizing" the Korean Peninsula.
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