US Secretary of State Kerry to urge China to increase pressure on North Korea

US Secretary of State John Kerry (centre) is greeted by US Ambassador to China Max Baucus, on his arrival in Beijing on Jan 26, 2016.
US Secretary of State John Kerry (centre) is greeted by US Ambassador to China Max Baucus, on his arrival in Beijing on Jan 26, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Beijing on Tuesday (Jan 26) evening for meetings with senior government leaders, with North Korea topping the agenda following the reclusive state's fourth nuclear test earlier this month.

The top US diplomat will also raise concerns over Beijing's "problematic behaviour" in the South China Sea and the thorny issues of humans rights and civil freedoms, a senior State Department official said.

North Korea is expected to dominate talks between Mr Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and other senior officials, as the international community seeks to squeeze Pyongyang with fresh sanctions following its latest nuclear test on Jan 6.

China is North Korea's chief diplomatic protector and economic benefactor, but those ties have been strained as Beijing loses patience with Pyongyang's unwillingness to rein in its nuclear weapons ambitions.

"The Secretary has made no secret... of his conviction that there is much more that China can do by way of applying leverage (on Pyongyang)," the US official said.

The South China Sea will also be discussed as tensions and territorial disputes in the vital waterway between Beijing and its neighbours in South-east Asia - backed by Washington - threaten to degenerate into conflict.

"The continuing tensions and problematic behaviour by China in the South China Sea is very much on the Secretary's mind and something that he will certainly discuss in depth," the US official said.

Finally, Mr Kerry will raise with his hosts "what we see as a very significant tightening of political space for civil society and for NGOs", the US official said.

Mr Kerry's visit to Beijing is the last leg of a three-continent tour that began in Davos with stops in Saudi Arabia, Laos and Cambodia.