S. Korea's Park meets China's Xi at Beijing summit

BEIJING (AFP) - South Korean President Park Geun-Hye met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday for summit talks to be dominated by Pyongyang's nuclear programme, seeking to push China to do more to bring its wayward ally North Korea to heel.

Ms Park, who arrived earlier in the day, was welcomed by Mr Xi at Beijing's ornate Great Hall of the People in a colourful ceremony with military honours and a 21-gun salute. A band played the two countries' national anthems and the leaders later entered the hall for talks.

Ms Park has said that her priority will be to "harden" China-South Korea cooperation on pressing for denuclearisation of the North.

Washington and Seoul have made it clear they will never accept the idea of North Korea as a nuclear state, and insist Pyongyang must show a tangible commitment to abandoning its nuclear weapons if it wants substantive talks.

Both have pressured China - North Korea's sole major ally and economic lifeline - to use all its leverage to rein in Pyongyang.

Ms Park will be hoping her visit, which will be anxiously monitored by the regime in Pyongyang, will yield a strong joint statement that commits both sides to a denuclearised North Korea. But China is unlikely to go much further.

"China has traditionally emphasised the need to keep North Korea stable, while trying to solve the nuclear issue," said Choi Woo-Seon, a professor at the state-run Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

Pyongyang appears to have moderated its stance after a series of bellicose statements and gestures in recent months against Seoul and Washington, including threats of nuclear war.

While a planned meeting with South Korea fell through, it has offered direct talks with the United States, and has sent two envoys to Beijing in the past four weeks.

China's relationship with North Korea - famously described by Mao Zedong as being as close as "lips and teeth" - was forged in the 1950-53 Korean War which China entered to prevent the North's total defeat.

But it has weakened significantly over the years, as China's economic transformation has distanced it from the ideological rigidity of the dynastic Kim regime across the border.