BEIJING/MUNICH • The United States policy of maintaining sanctions and military pressure on North Korea while refusing to talk to the country is not working and will only make matters worse, a Chinese official has said, venting Beijing's impatience with the stalemate over its isolated neighbour.
"China just keeps on telling you this is not working, although we're going along with you," Ms Fu Ying, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee of China's legislature and was a vice-foreign minister until 2013, said at the Munich Security Conference. "You have to realise - without talking with them, you will only drive them in the wrong direction further."
Ms Fu was flanked on stage by South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se and US Senator Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican, in a rare public airing of differences between the US and South Korea on the one side, and China on the other.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly demanded China do more to rein in its neighbour and force it to abide by United Nations Security Council resolutions aimed at curbing the North's nuclear ambitions.
Earlier on Saturday, China's Ministry of Commerce said it will halt coal imports from North Korea up to the end of the year, stripping the Kim Jong Un regime of a crucial source of income.
China has backed the Kim dynasty since it took charge after the Korean War, in part to prevent a US ally from establishing a presence on its border. With the international community enforcing sanctions on North Korea after a series of nuclear tests, China now accounts for more than 90 per cent of its total trade. Coal sales accounted for more than 50 per cent of North Korea's exports to China last year, and about a fifth of its total trade, according to Professor Yang Moo Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
No reason was given for China's stopping of coal imports from North Korea, although analysts pointed to the murder last Monday of Mr Kim's older half-brother, Mr Kim Jong Nam, in Malaysia. He had lived outside North Korea for many years and had close links to China.
Beijing is becoming increasingly frustrated with Mr Kim Jong Un, whose actions are spurring the US to deploy an anti-missile defence system called Thaad in South Korea - a move that also potentially threatens China's military capabilities.
President Trump has called on China to get tougher on North Korea, and this month promised to deal with the country "very strongly" after its latest ballistic missile test.
"There are a number of people in the United States, myself included, who would encourage China, which has a lot of leverage over North Korea, to use that leverage in a more constructive way," Mr Sullivan said.
Mr Yun, the South Korean foreign minister, rejected the idea of more talks any time soon.
"We are dealing with a country which has much more dangerous capacity than 10 years ago, 20 years ago," he said. "Simply talking about dialogue, coming back to the conference table, means nothing."
In a speech to the Munich conference last Friday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said negotiations with North Korea are the best opportunity for peace in the region.
Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, moderating last Saturday's panel, asked Ms Fu to put herself in the shoes of a South Korean and discuss the threat of North Korea's ambitions. She responded by saying everyone in the room should put themselves in a North Korean's shoes.
"We need to ask why the North Koreans want to develop nuclear weapons - they want to throw it to Alaska?" Ms Fu said. "They know that they won't stand the second strike."