Beijing open to talks on North Korea with fewer parties

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi gesturing during a press conference of the fourth session of the 12th National People's Congress in Beijing, China, on March 8, 2016.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi gesturing during a press conference of the fourth session of the 12th National People's Congress in Beijing, China, on March 8, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

China says it is open to reducing the number of participants in the six-party talks, signalling a sense of increased urgency on its part to resolve tensions on the Korean Peninsula caused by North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi yesterday said China was receptive to "three-, four- or five-party interactions", without specifying which countries to include.

"We are open to any or all the initiatives which could help bring the nuclear issue on the peninsula back to the negotiating table," he said.

The six-party talks, first held in 2003 to dismantle North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, has been stalled since 2008. The six countries were North Korea, South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

Mr Wang's comments mark a rare departure for China from its long-held insistence that all six parties should be involved in any resumption of the nuclear talks.

RESTARTING NUCLEAR TALKS

We are open to any or all the initiatives which could help bring the nuclear issue on the peninsula back to the negotiating table.

MR WANG YI, China's Foreign Minister

It also comes after South Korean President Park Geun Hye in January called for five-party talks which exclude North Korea.

Beijing-based North Korea expert Gao Haorong said the openness to other arrangements underscore the urgency with which China views this matter.

"China is saying it's flexible, as long as it can solve the problem," he told The Straits Times, adding that three- and four-party talks had been held in the 1990s and early 2000s on the North Korea nuclear issue.

Three-party talks involved the US, China and North Korea, while four-party talks involved South Korea as well.

The new thinking on the talks comes as harsh new sanctions were recently imposed on North Korea, with Mr Wang saying yesterday that "having blind faith on sanctions is irresponsible" to the situation.

Teo Cheng Wee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2016, with the headline 'Beijing open to talks on North Korea with fewer parties'. Print Edition | Subscribe