China urges US, North Korea to resume talks as tensions escalate

US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun arrives at Beijing's Capital International Airport on Dec 19, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China on Thursday (Dec 19) urged the United States and North Korea to resume dialogue and work to resolve disagreements as soon as possible amid renewed tensions between Washington and Pyongyang over the latter's nuclear and missiles programmes.

Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui and US special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun met in the Chinese capital on Thursday and exchanged views on achieving denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula in stages, China's foreign ministry said.

It added in a statement that the two sides agreed to continue communication on the matter.

Pyongyang has conducted a series of weapons tests and waged a war of words with US President Donald Trump in recent weeks, stoking fears the two countries could return to a collision course.

Mr Biegun's public call to Pyongyang for renewed dialogue during a visit to South Korea earlier this week went unanswered, underscoring the reclusive state's discontent at a lack of concessions in response to its decision to halt nuclear tests and long-range missile launches.

China and Russia on Monday introduced a joint proposal that calls on the UN Security Council to lift some sanctions on exports and foreign workers to "break the deadlock" in the stalled talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

"This is the best plan in the current situation to resolve the stalemate in the denuclearisation of North Korea and for its peace and stability," Mr Luo told reporters at a separate briefing earlier on Thursday, adding that a political solution is still achievable despite a recent rise in tensions.

The US holds veto power in the 15-member council and remains opposed to any sanctions relief, however, making the China-Russia resolution unlikely to go through.

Mr Biegun did not speak to reporters as he entered a Beijing hotel late on Thursday. It was unclear whether he would hold any further meetings on Friday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Mr Trump met for the first time in Singapore in June 2018 and have met twice more since, but scant progress towards denuclearisation has been made and Mr Kim has given Mr Trump until the end of this year to show flexibility.

North Korea's UN envoy declared this month that denuclearisation was off the table, and some analysts say Pyongyang could soon conduct a test for a major strategic weapon such as an intercontinental ballistic missile.

"We hope that the concerned parties will practice restraint and meet each other halfway, and work through dialogue to realise positive interactions and quickly find a meeting point to find a resolution," Mr Luo told reporters at the briefing.

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