BEIJING — Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that he had won a commitment from China to help bring a belligerent North Korea back to nuclear disarmament talks, even as he butted heads with Chinese leaders over a series of increasingly aggressive steps Beijing has taken to assert itself in territorial disputes with its smaller neighbors.
Kerry met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other senior officials as he sought to underscore the Obama administration’s commitment to refocusing US foreign policy on the Asia-Pacific region amid myriad other global priorities. He addressed issues including climate change, human rights, rule of law, Syria, and Iran with his Chinese hosts.
Speaking to reporters following those talks, Kerry praised China for joining with the United States in calling for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear programs and said he urged Beijing to ‘‘use every tool at its disposal’’ to persuade its communist neighbor to return to the long-stalled disarmament talks.
North Korea ‘‘must take meaningful, concrete, and irreversible steps toward verifiable denuclearization, and it needs to begin now,’’ Kerry said. ‘‘China could not have more forcefully reiterated its commitment to that goal, its interest in achieving that goal, and its concerns about not achieving that goal.’’
Kerry said Chinese officials had told him they were willing to take more steps to gain North Korean denuclearization and that both sides had traded ideas for consideration. He did not elaborate on what those steps were, but a day earlier in South Korea had suggested they could involve reductions in commercial and energy trade between China and North Korea.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, meanwhile, said China would never allow chaos or war on the Korean Peninsula.
‘‘China is serious on this, as shown not only in our words but in our actions,’’ Wang said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
While China is North Korea’s only significant ally and main source of economic assistance, the extent of China’s influence, and willingness to use it, is unclear following a purge in the isolated country’s leadership.
Diplomats say Beijing received no prior warning of the December arrest and execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who had been considered Pyongyang’s point man on China affairs and was a strong promoter of free trade zones being set up along their mutual border.
That came on the heels of Pyongyang’s snubbing of Beijing’s wishes when it conducted a missile test in late 2012, followed by the underground detonation of a nuclear device last spring.