BEIJING • China's Foreign Ministry said yesterday that sanctions alone cannot solve the North Korean nuclear issue and that unilateral action can only lead to a dead end.
"The crux of the Korean nuclear issue lies not in China but in the US, as this issue is nothing but conflict between the DPRK and the US," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said at a briefing in Beijing yesterday.
DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.
Ms Hua said the North Korean nuclear issue can be resolved only through "dialogue and consultation", reported Bloomberg News.
"It has been repeatedly proven that sanctions themselves cannot solve this problem," she said.
"Any unilateral action that aims to pursue selfish gains can only lead to a dead end."
The spokesman was responding to calls by United States President Barack Obama for China to tighten sanctions against Mr Kim Jong Un's regime prior to its fifth - and biggest - nuclear test last Friday.
China had said it was resolutely opposed to the nuclear test, but Ms Hua, at a press briefing last Friday, would not be drawn into saying whether China would support new, tougher sanctions against its neighbour, reported Reuters.
China, Pyongyang's main diplomatic ally, is key in any effort to rein in North Korea's nuclear programme. But experts say Beijing increasingly appears unable to influence its neighbour.
"China doesn't have any sticks with North Korea," Mr Zhao Tong, an associate at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in Beijing, told the CNN network.
Analysts say the Obama administration's decision to deploy the advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system, or Thaad, in South Korea also gives Beijing less incentive to cooperate with Washington on a North Korea strategy, reported the New York Times.
This has made North Korea's role as a buffer between China and US ally South Korea even more valuable to Beijing, Mr Zhao told CNN.
"China is strongly opposed to North Korea's nuclear weapons but, at the same time, opposes the defence system in South Korea," Mr Cheng Xiaohe, an assistant professor of international relations at China's Renmin University, told the New York Times.
Meanwhile, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported that North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, formerly the country's chief nuclear negotiator, arrived in Beijing yesterday. Ms Hua said she has not heard of any arrangements for the minister's stay in China.
In another development, a US special envoy for the isolated state, Mr Sung Kim, will hold talks with his South Korean counterpart Kim Hong Kyun in Seoul today, reported the South's Yonhap news agency.