China says it hopes meeting between North Korea, US leaders can advance smoothly

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing that China hoped all sides cherish the opportunity.
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing that China hoped all sides cherish the opportunity. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China hopes that a planned meeting between the leaders of North Korea and the United States in May can advance smoothly and that all sides maintain focus and avoid “disruptive factors”, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Tuesday (April 3).

China has traditionally been secretive North Korea’s closest ally, but ties have been frayed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and missiles and Beijing’s backing of tough UN sanctions in response.

Mr Wang Yi, a State Councillor and China’s Foreign Minister, said there had been positive changes on the peninsula and that all sides were engaging in “sincere exchanges” and creating a “rare opportunity”.

“China hopes all sides can cherish this hard to come by situation, maintain the momentum of contact and dialogue, and create conditions to smoothly restart dialogue,” Mr Wang said during a joint news briefing with visiting Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis.

Mr Wang said he hoped the meeting between Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump would “increase mutual understanding”.

“But historical experience tells us that at the moment of easing of the situation on the peninsula and as first light dawns on peace and dialogue, frequently all manner of disruptive factors emerge,” Mr Wang said.

“So we call on all sides to maintain focus, eliminate interference, and firmly follow the correct path of dialogue and negotiation.”

Mr Kim pledged his commitment to denuclearisation and to meet US officials, China said last month after his meeting in Beijing with President Xi Jinping.

Mr Kim is scheduled to meet Mr Trump in May to discuss denuclearisation, although a time and place have not been set. North and South Korea will hold their first summit in more than a decade on April 27, South Korea said.

Mr Kim’s predecessors, grandfather Kim Il Sung and father Kim Jong Il, both promised not to pursue nuclear weapons but secretly maintained programmes to develop them, culminating in the North’s first nuclear test in 2006 under Mr Kim Jong Il.

North Korea has said in previous, failed talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear programme it could consider giving up its arsenal if the United States removed its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.

China had largely sat on the sidelines as North Korea improved relations with South Korea recently, raising worries in Beijing that it was no longer a central player in the North Korean issue, reinforced by Mr Trump’s announcement of his proposed meeting with Mr Kim.