SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – The top US diplomat on Thursday pressed China to use its “tremendous influence” to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, hours after North Korea said it would it will ignore US offers to resume negotiations.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke at the end of high-profile security talks in Seoul, which included Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korea’s defense and foreign ministers. The so-called “two plus two” meeting, the first of its kind in five years, came as President Joe Biden is pushing to restore America’s alliances in Asia in the face of mounting challenges from China and North Korea.
“Beijing has an interest, a clear self-interest in helping to pursue the denuclearization of (North Korea) because it is a source of instability. It is a source of danger and obviously a threat to us and our partners, ”Blinken told a news conference.
He said Beijing has “a critical role to play” in persuading North Korea to denuclearize because most of North Korea’s foreign trade goes through China. Blinken stressed that China is bound by UN Security Council resolutions to fully enforce the sanctions imposed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests.
China, the last great ally and the biggest benefactor of aid from the North, was long suspected of avoiding fully implementing sanctions against the North. Some observers say China believes a unified, pro-U.S. Korea established on its doorstep would undermine its strategic interests, and it worries that a humanitarian disaster in North Korea could push swarms of refugees to the countries’ borders.
Earlier Thursday, Choe Son Hui, North Korea’s First Deputy Foreign Minister, confirmed Blinken’s earlier announcement that Washington had communicated with Pyongyang through various channels as of mid-February, but has received no response. .
Choe called the US outreach a “time-delay trick” and said North Korea would continue to scrap similar offers for the talks unless Washington withdraws its hostility. “What has been heard from the United States since the rise of the new regime is just a lunatic ‘North Korean threat’ theory and unfounded rhetoric about ‘complete denuclearization,'” he said.
When asked about Choe’s statement, Blinken said he was aware, but said he was most interested in comments and thoughts from America’s allies and partners while on a regional tour. South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong said Thursday’s talks were about North Korea’s statement and its intentions. He said South Korea hopes the US-North Korean talks will resume soon.
US-led diplomacy that focuses on North Korea’s nuclear weapons remains stalled for about two years due to disputes over US-led sanctions. Experts are debating whether the United States and its allies should settle for a deal that would freeze North Korea’s nuclear activities in exchange for easing sanctions to prevent its arsenal from growing.
Earlier this week, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned the United States “to refrain from causing a stench,” while criticizing exercises between the United States and South Korea that her government considers an invasion test.
Some experts say North Korea, which is eager for sanctions relief, may draw even more animosities with missile tests to boost its influence in any negotiations with the United States. North Korea’s moribund economy is under additional pressure due to the pandemic-related border closure that has significantly reduced its foreign trade and a series of natural disasters last summer.
After Thursday’s talks, Blinken, Austin and their South Korean counterparts said in a joint statement that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile problems are “a priority for the alliance” and reaffirmed a shared commitment to addressing those issues.
Austin said the United States is fully committed to defending South Korea, using “the full range of American capabilities, including our extended deterrence.” Blinken criticized North Korea’s human rights record for the second day in a row, saying that people in North Korea “continue to suffer widespread and systematic abuse at the hands of a repressive government.”
Later on Thursday, Blinken and Austin met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who was once a driving force behind the first part of nuclear diplomacy between the United States and North Korea in 2018. Moon said Seoul will continue close cooperation with Washington to achieve complete denuclearization. and lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.
Blinken and Austin are on the first overseas trip for cabinet-level officials since Biden took office in January. They visited Japan before coming to Seoul.
South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook said that during Thursday’s talks, the US side emphasized the importance of a US-led trilateral security cooperation involving Seoul and Tokyo many times. He said that South Korea in principle agrees with the US view. Ties between Seoul and Tokyo have suffered major setbacks in recent years due to problems stemming from the Japanese colonization of the Korean peninsula in 1910-45.
Blinken said Thursday’s talks discussed China’s role, and “our eyes are clear on Beijing’s continued failure to meet its commitments.”
“And we talked about how Beijing’s aggressive and authoritarian behavior is challenging the stability and security prosperity of the Pacific region,” he said. “Beijing’s actions make forging a common approach among our allies even more important at a time when we are seeing a decline in democracy and human rights around the world, including in Burma.”
Blinken will meet with senior Chinese officials in Anchorage, Alaska, on his way back to Washington, while Austin will travel to New Delhi to speak with Indian officials.
China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, said that Beijing does not expect the Alaska talks to solve all the problems between China and the United States and that “we are not very hopeful.” Cu further added that he hopes the meeting is “a beginning and that the two sides can begin a dialogue process that is sincere, constructive and realistic.”
During Thursday’s talks, Chung said there was no direct discussion on the issue of South Korea joining an expanded format of the Indo-Pacific group involving the United States, Japan, Australia and India, known as the Quad. Chung maintained the government’s stance that South Korea can join any forum if it values transparency, openness and inclusion and serves its national interests.