China and North Korea to hold talks on Wednesday

BEIJING (AFP) - China will hold talks with North Korea this week, Beijing said on Monday, amid ongoing tensions on the Korean peninsula over the North's nuclear programme.

Chinese vice-foreign minister Zhang Yesui will meet North Korean first vice-foreign minister Kim Gye Kwan in Beijing on Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing.

"The two sides will exchange views on bilateral relations, the situation on the Korean peninsula and international issues of common interest," she said, with the talks part of "strategic dialogue" between the two countries' foreign ministries.

China has come under pressure to encourage North Korea to halt its nuclear programme after the reclusive nation in February carried out its third underground nuclear test, which brought worldwide condemnation.

The meeting follows one last month between Chinese president Xi Jinping and North Korean envoy Choe Ryong Hae, who is a close confidant of the North's leader Kim Jong Un.

Tensions over the nuclear programme have waned somewhat in recent months, amid a series of high profile meetings including a summit between US President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

But North Korea unexpectedly cancelled much-anticipated talks with the South last week.

South Korea's President Park Geun Hye on Monday warned against engaging North Korea in a token dialogue that would only allow Pyongyang more time to develop its nuclear weapons programme. The warning came in a 20-minute telephone call between Ms Park and Mr Obama the day after North Korea proposed opening direct denuclearisation talks with the United States.

Ms Park is due to make her first visit to China later this month.

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