BEIJING — The leaders of China and South Korea called for North Korea to resume negotiations on its nuclear disarmament after a meeting Thursday in which they discussed ways to draw their isolated and erratic neighbor back into dialogue with the outside world.
The summit in Beijing marked the beginning of a four-day visit by South Korea’s new president, Park Geun-hye. It also comes at a time when China, Pyongyang’s biggest ally and longtime benefactor, has signaled unusual displeasure with the North after it recently carried out a missile launch and nuclear test and issued a barrage of provocative rhetoric despite Beijing’s protests.
“We shared an understanding that North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons cannot be tolerated under any circumstances,” Park said at a joint press conference with China’s president, Xi Jinping.
Xi said he and Park agreed to work together on matters related to the North but put his emphasis on the need for Pyongyang to restart six-nation talks on nuclear disarmament.
In the days leading up to the meeting, Park made clear that North Korea was her overriding concern, telling South Korean media that she would try to boost cooperation with China “so as to make North Korea come forward for sincere talks.”
Underscoring her hope of strengthening and leveraging economic ties with China, Park was accompanied by executives from South Korea’s biggest companies, including Samsung, LG, and Hyundai Motors. The unusually large 71-member business contingent highlights the enormous volume of trade between the two countries — worth $215 billion last year — and South Korea’s status as one of the few countries to post a trade surplus with China.
As for China, analysts say it is using the meetings with Park to signal displeasure with North Korea and increase pressure on its government. Many note that Park is meeting with Xi before North Korea’s young new leader, Kim Jong Un, has had an opportunity to do so.
A visit by Kim to Beijing has not been possible given the recent chill in relations between China and the North, said Zhang Liangui, a specialist on North Korea at the Central Party School, which is run by the ruling Communist Party.
“If the leaders of the two countries cannot agree on important issues, there cannot be a successful or a fruitful visit,” Zhang said.
Chinese officials are considered unlikely to abandon North Korea soon, fearful of the instability, the swarms of refugees, and the unified, US-friendly Korean government that might ensue on its doorstep.
Still, after North Korea’s nuclear test this spring, China agreed to increased sanctions on its ally and cut off access for some North Korean banks.
“Chinese residents had some sympathy toward North Korea, more or less, but right now, Chinese are very disappointed and feel North Korea is almost laughable,” said Jin Canrong, an international relations professor at Renmin University.
In the past, Jin added, China was reluctant to publicly discuss North Korean issues with the South or the United States, out of consideration for its ally’s feelings.
“But now, China doesn’t care what North Korea thinks at all and discusses these agendas openly in public,” he said.