BEIJING • It is more important than anything to keep up the momentum for talks between the United States and North Korea, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing yesterday.
North Korea has set a year-end deadline for the US to change what it says is a policy of hostility amid a stalemate in efforts to make progress on their pledge to end the North's nuclear programme and establish lasting peace.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump have met three times since June last year, but there has been no substantive progress in dialogue while the North demanded crushing international sanctions be lifted first.
Last Saturday, North Korea's state media said the US would "pay dearly" for taking issue with the North's human rights record and said Washington's "malicious words" would only aggravate tensions on the Korean peninsula.
China is North Korea's most important diplomatic backer and trading partner, and Mr Moon took his message about the significance of talks straight to Mr Xi.
"It is more important than anything to keep up the momentum for dialogue between North Korea and the United States," Mr Moon said, according to his spokesman Ko Min-jung, who was present at the meeting in Beijing's Great Hall of the People.
Ms Ko cited Mr Xi as saying that many people are concerned about the tense situation on the Korean peninsula. "China and South Korea should gather strength to help North Korea and the United States sustain the momentum for dialogue," she cited Mr Xi as saying.
Mr Xi told Mr Moon that China supports South Korea's efforts to improve ties with North Korea and inject new impetus into promoting peace talks, China's Foreign Ministry said.
China and South Korea both advocate that the Korean peninsula issue be resolved through dialogue and consultation and are a "firm force for maintaining stability and promoting talks", the ministry paraphrased Mr Xi as saying.
Mr Moon is visiting China for a trilateral meeting between him, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in the south-western city of Chengdu.
Though various economic matters will also be on the agenda - as well as tensions between Seoul and Tokyo - North Korea appears likely to dominate the discussion.
US special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun met two senior Chinese diplomats during his two-day visit to Beijing last week, following similar meetings in South Korea and Japan days earlier, as diplomats make last-ditch attempts to prevent new confrontation.
Beijing, jointly with Russia, proposed last week that the United Nations Security Council lift some sanctions in what it calls an attempt to break the current deadlock.
Mr Xi also discussed North Korea in his meeting with Mr Abe yesterday. In a press briefing after their meeting, Mr Masato Otaka - spokesman for the Japanese minister of foreign affairs - said Mr Xi asked for support for the draft UN resolution on easing sanctions against the nuclear-armed state.
Mr Otaka said Tokyo felt it was too soon to consider lifting sanctions. "Our position is that it is too early for any lifting of the sanctions at this moment, considering what's happening around North Korea these days," said Mr Otaka.
Mr Abe also spoke to Mr Xi about the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, and said the city should continue to be free and open under the "one country, two systems" model.
Mr Otaka said Mr Abe urged China to continue its self-restraint over Hong Kong and expressed hope for an early resolution of the situation.
According to the Japanese spokesman, Mr Xi replied to Mr Abe's comments on Hong Kong by repeating China's position that Hong Kong is a domestic matter.
Mr Abe also pressed the Chinese President on human rights in Xinjiang, according to the Japanese spokesman, and said he "hopes to see the Chinese government explain itself with transparency regarding the situation".
China has faced international condemnation for rounding up an estimated one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities in internment camps in the north-western region of Xinjiang.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE