China has realised that time is running out to rein in North Korea's nuclear programme and is open to imposing further sanctions, a senior United States diplomat has said.
Ms Susan Thornton, acting assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said China understood the US' view that the North Korea situation is an urgent "time-limited problem set".
"They know now that they don't have, I think, as much time to try to bring the North Koreans to the table to get their calculus changed and get them to the negotiating table," she told reporters yesterday at the end of a two-day visit to Beijing.
"And I think that has lent some urgency to their measures," she said in comments quoted by Reuters.
Ms Thornton warned that China "clearly has to do more". "If China's not working with us on this major regional security threat of North Korea, where it holds a lot of cards and a lot of leverage, then there are going to be problems in other parts of the relationship," she added.
But Beijing said it has not changed its position on North Korea, which is that peace can be achieved on the Korean Peninsula only if the parties adhered to denuclearisation by peaceful means, and through dialogue and consultation.
TIME TO MAKE A STAND
If China's not working with us on this major regional security threat of North Korea, where it holds a lot of cards and a lot of leverage, then there are going to be problems in other parts of the relationship.
MS SUSAN THORNTON, acting assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs
"China has always believed that if there's a state of tension, and if parties are unable to return to the negotiating table, then that is of course not conducive to solving the peninsula's nuclear issue or to regional peace and stability," China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said yesterday when asked about Ms Thornton's comments.
Analysts here said Ms Thornton's comments were a bid to get China to take greater steps to isolate North Korea, but Beijing feels that sanctions have had a limited effect.
International relations professor Su Hao from the China Foreign Affairs University noted that China has fulfilled, and in some ways, exceeded United Nations sanctions on North Korea, such as when it cut tourism and flights to the country.
Professor Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at Renmin University, said sanctions may have slowed North Korea's nuclear programme in the past, but "it looks like this tactic has lost its power".
Last Sunday, Pyongyang fired a medium-range ballistic missile, the second missile test in as many weeks. It has tested two nuclear bombs since last year.
Leaders gathered in Italy for the G-7 summit that ends today are expected to issue a statement that North Korea poses a new level of threat to the world - tougher wording compared with the previous communique, reported The Japan News. North Korea also tops the agenda on a China-Russia summit taking place at the same time.
Trilateral talks between defence ministers of Japan, US and South Korea, as well as between those of Japan, US and Australia, are on the cards at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore next week.
At the talks, the defence ministers will jointly condemn North Korea for its repeated provocations, and reaffirm the policy to tighten the international community's encirclement of North Korea, reported The Yomiuri Shimbun.