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Kerry tells China's Xi that Korea situation is at 'critical time'

The US Secretary of State is meeting with Chinese President XI Jinping today in an effort to seek Beijing’s intervention in the Korean peninsula crisis.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gives a thumbs-up before leaving for China at the Seoul Military Airport in Seongnam, South Korea,
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gives a thumbs-up before leaving for China at the Seoul Military Airport in Seongnam, South Korea,
Image: Ahn Young-joon/AP/Press Association Images

THE CURRENT SITUATION on the Korean peninsula is at a “critical time”, US Secretary of State John Kerry told Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday as he arrived to seek Beijing’s intervention in the crisis.

“Mr President, this is obviously a critical time with some very challenging issues,” Kerry told Xi in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Issues on the Korean peninsula, the challenge of Iran and nuclear weapons, Syria and the Middle East, and economies around the world that are in need of a boost.

Kerry arrived from South Korea earlier to press Beijing to help defuse soaring nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula, which have been mounting since the North conducted a rocket test last December and a nuclear test in February.

Beijing is Pyongyang’s sole major ally and its key provider of aid and trade, and is seen as having unique leverage over the government of Kim Jong-Un, which has issued repeated threats of nuclear war.

But Xi did not refer to the Korean peninsula in his opening remarks at the meeting, instead saying that the US-China relationship was “at a new historical stage and has got off to a good start”.

Talks

Kerry met first with China’s foreign minister Wang Yi after flying in from talks in South Korea with President Park Geun-Hye, where he offered public US support for her plans to initiate some trust-building with the North.

China has backed North Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War and could wield tremendous leverage over the isolated communist regime thanks to the vital aid it provides, including almost all of its neighbour’s energy imports.

But analysts say it is wary of pushing too hard for fear of destabilising North Korea, which could send a wave of hungry refugees flooding into China and ultimately lead to a reunified Korea allied with the United States.

China and the US have a sometimes strained relationship, with Beijing uneasy over Washington’s ‘rebalancing’ towards Asia, and Kerry’s first visit to the region since becoming America’s top diplomat has been completely overshadowed by the Korean crisis.

China

“I think it’s clear to everybody in the world that no country in the world has as close a relationship or as significant an impact on the DPRK (North Korea) than China,” Kerry said in Seoul after meeting South Korean leaders.

In a meeting with her ruling party officials on Friday, Park said the South should meet with the North and “listen to what North Korea thinks”.

While Kerry berated Pyongyang’s “unacceptable” rhetoric and warned that any missile launch would be a “huge mistake,” he also took pains to stress US backing for Park’s initiative.

In another sign of US hopes of defusing tensions, Kerry did not visit the truce village of Panmunjom, a common stop for foreign leaders visiting Seoul.

After China, Kerry heads to Japan which is also deeply involved in the North Korea issue and which deployed Patriot missiles around Tokyo this week as anticipation of a missile launch by the North’s mounted.

Kerry said he hoped China, Japan and the United States would be able to find the “unity” required to offer a “very different set of alternatives for how we can proceed and ultimately how we can defuse this situation”.

- © AFP, 2013

Read: Pentagon report says North Korea has capability of nuclear strike>

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