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Enter nuclear talks, China tells N. Korea

In Beijing, President Xi Jinping of China (right) greeted Vice Marshal Choe Ryong Hae of North Korea.

Rao Aimin/Xinhua via Associated Press

In Beijing, President Xi Jinping of China (right) greeted Vice Marshal Choe Ryong Hae of North Korea.

BEIJING — The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, bluntly told a North Korean envoy Friday that his country should return to diplomatic talks designed to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons, according to a state-run Chinese news agency.

“The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and lasting peace on the peninsula is what the people want and also the trend of the times,” Xi said in a meeting at the Great Hall of the People with Vice Marshal Choe Ryong Hae, a personal envoy of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, the China News Service reported.

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Choe, who has been in Beijing for three days on a mission to repair the prickly relationship between North Korea and China, handed Xi a letter from Kim. The contents were not disclosed.

In telling the North it should return to the negotiating table, Xi appeared to strike a stern tone, saying, “The Chinese position is very clear: No matter how the situation changes, relevant parties should all adhere to the goal of denuclearization of the peninsula, persist in safeguarding its peace and stability, and stick to solving problems through dialogue and consultation.”

The Chinese leader called for resuming the so-called six-party talks, the diplomatic effort among six countries including China and the United States that collapsed in 2008 when North Korea walked out.

US experts on North Korea say it is unlikely that North Korea would agree to the talks, largely because the United States and South Korea would insist on preconditions like a pledge from North Korea that it would abandon its nuclear program.

The warning Friday from Xi follows a clear message the Chinese president delivered at a conference in April at Boao in southern China, when he said that “no one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gain.”

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As the vice marshal proceeded through the standard meetings in Beijing with two senior Communist Party leaders, the usual conduit for relations between the two countries, and then a meeting with a senior Chinese military commander Friday, it remained unclear whether he would be accorded an audience with the Chinese president. The meeting with Xi at the Great Hall of the People was announced after it occurred. The erratic behavior of Kim and his approval of a third nuclear test in February have annoyed China, the biggest economic benefactor of North Korea. The meeting here comes a little more than two weeks before a summit in California between President Obama and the Chinese leader.

North Korea has requested meetings in Beijing for the last several months but has been rebuffed by the Chinese leadership, Chinese analysts said. It appeared that the Chinese relented after the announcement of the meeting between Xi and Obama, and the vice marshal then rushed to Beijing.

The belligerent actions of Kim since he came to power more than a year ago have left an opening for China and the United States to start to act in concert on how to handle North Korea’s growing nuclear program. North Korea will almost certainly be one of the top issues on the agenda at the meeting between Obama and Xi. In an earlier encounter Friday with the vice marshal, a senior Chinese military commander delivered a similar message to Xi, and suggested that North Korea’s nuclear program was responsible for the rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

By the standards of China’s carefully worded statements, the remarks by General Fan Changlong, a vice chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission, were unusually strong. They were devoid of any ritualistic references to the friendship between the allies.

“In recent years, the Korean Peninsula has frequently seen rapidly escalating tensions due to the Korean nuclear issue,” Fan was quoted as saying by the China News Service. “Strategic differences between parties have been exacerbated, endangering the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.”

On the first two days of his visit, Choe met with high-ranking Chinese Communist Party officials. His meeting with Fan was seen as part of the protocol of a visit by a high-ranking North Korean military official. Fan appealed for “dialogue and consultation” and “unremitting efforts” toward peace.

In reply to Fan, the vice marshal was quoted as saying that North Korea was willing to “search for a way to solve problems with dialogue.”

A US expert on North Korea said Friday a resumption of the six-party talks that include China, the United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, and Russia was unlikely.

“There is no realistic prospect for any near-term resumption of diplomacy with Pyongyang,” said Jonathan D. Pollack, the author of a book on North Korea and its weapons program. “But North Korean actions in recent months have enabled the most candid and realistic discussions between Washington and Beijing that have ever taken place.”

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