China airs pessimism on North Korea

There is still hope for a diplomatic solution to the frictions over N. Korea’s nuclear ambitions, says Wang

By BLOOMBERG

SEOUL • China expressed pessimism about bringing the North Korean standoff to a peaceful resolution, even as Kim Jong-un’s regime touted new United Nations (UN) support for “regular” talks.

Chinese Foreign Minster Wang Yi (picture) said on Saturday “the outlook is not optimistic” on the Korean Peninsula and urged all sides to end what he said was a “vicious cycle” of confrontation. Wang’s remarks — part of a broad foreign policy speech in Beijing — came hours after North Korea said a departing UN delegation had agreed to communications to help ease tensions.

Wang said there was still hope for a diplomatic solution to the frictions over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. He reiterated a Chinese “freezefor- freeze” proposal for North Korea to suspend weapons tests while the US halts military drills in the area. “The first step to pull the situation on the peninsula out of the current ‘black hole’ of confrontation is to create the conditions and atmosphere to restart dialogue,” Wang said.

The UN’s top official for political affairs, Under-secretary- general Jeffrey Feltman, left North Korea on Saturday.

His visit came as the US sent a B-1B bomber to join massive aerial drills with South Korea after Kim recently tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach any American city.

The UN move was part of a flurry of efforts involving countries from Canada to Germany to try and facilitate talks between Kim’s regime and the US.

Still, there have been no negotiations with Pyongyang for years on its nuclear programme, with Kim refusing to agree to US demands he first halt his arms development, and North Korea in turn accusing the US of planning an invasion and regime change.

Repeated calls by South Korea and China for talks have failed to gain traction, even as Kim accelerates his weapons capability with a series of missile and nuclear tests.

North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA )said on Saturday that Feltman’s visit contributed to a deeper understanding and that they agreed to communicate at “various levels”.

“The UN secretariat’s side expressed its readiness to make a contribution to the relaxation of the tension on the peninsula under the UN Charter,” KCNA said. It added that Feltman paid a “courtesy call” on Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and held talks with a vice minister of foreign affairs.

Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, said in an emailed statement on Saturday that Feltman “emphasised the need for the full implementation of all relevant Security Council resolutions”.

Feltman noted “the urgent need to prevent miscalculations” on the volatile Korean Peninsula, and the benefit of open channels to reduce the risks of conflict, Dujarric said in the statement. The North Korean officials and Feltman agreed that the situation there was “the most tense and dangerous peace and security issue in the world today”.

“I don’t believe this in itself is meaningful,” said Shin Beomchul, a professor at Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

North Korea wanted to use the UN to gain legitimacy and get the US to acknowledge it as a nuclear state, he said.

The US has refused to consider negotiations while Kim tests increasingly powerful nuclear bombs and lobs missiles into the sea around Japan.

In an interview with Bloomberg last Wednesday, US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad said the Trump administration would be ready for talks if North Korea renounced further launches.

Any UN mediation effort would require approval from the UN Security Council, where the US wields veto power. The Security Council has called for the resumption of the so-called six-party talks, which included China, Japan, Russia and South Korea and broke off in 2009.

Weapons tests by North Korea have prompted the Security Council to pass sanctions blocking about 90% of that nation’s reported exports, including coal and seafood, as well as imports of some oil products. The KCNA report said Feltman acknowledged the negative effect of sanctions.

While analysts doubt North Korea can deliver a miniaturised nuclear bomb to the US — including ensuring it survives the heat of re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere — the test put new pressure on the US and its allies to find a solution.

By declaring his weapons programme complete, Kim may have created a path to resume negotiations from a position of strength.

“North Korea’s effort to strengthen relations with the UN is an extension of its announcement it completed its nuclear programme last month in that both aim for negotiations with the US,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

“Hope for peace has not yet been eliminated,” Wang said. “The prospect for negotiations still exists. The choice of using force is absolutely unacceptable.”