S. Korea praises China's role in nudging N. Korea to talks

South Korean national security director Chung Eui-yong, left, shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi before their meeting at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Monday, March 12, 2018. (Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Pool Photo via AP)

South Korea's national security director is praising the role of Chinese President Xi Jinping in nudging North Korea toward denuclearization talks, following word of a possible summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

BEIJING — South Korea's national security director on Monday praised Chinese President Xi Jinping's role in nudging North Korea toward denuclearization talks, following word of a possible summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Meeting with Xi at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Chung Eui-yong said the situation on the Korean Peninsula had "undergone very positive changes."

"(South Korean) President Moon Jae-in believes that the leadership of the Chinese government, especially the leadership ability of President Xi, has played a big role in this," Chung said.

"That we were able to get to this stage shows China has played an important role," he said. "Once again, we expect that China will continue to play an active and leading role and the South Korean government will continue to coordinate closely with China."

Xi told Chung the peninsula was "facing an important opportunity of mitigation and dialogue," according to state broadcaster CCTV. He referred both to the potential Trump-Kim summit and talks between Moon and Kim scheduled for next month at a truce village inside the Demilitarized Zone that divides their countries.

"We are looking forward to the smooth holding of the summit meeting between the two Koreas and the dialogue between North Korea and the U.S. and achieving concrete progress in promoting the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the normalization of relations between each other," Xi said.

"As long as all sides can focus on the fundamental goals of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and peace and stability, a day of the melting of the hard ice and the blossom of the spring flowers will be seen on the Korean Peninsula," he said.

Chung made similar comments at an earlier meeting with China's top foreign policy adviser, Yang Jiechi, who told Chung that China insists on all parties "sticking to solving the issue through dialogue and consultation."

"As long as all parties insist on solving the issue politically and maintain this direction, we can undoubtedly lead the situation on the Korean Peninsula to move forward in the direction in which the global community hopes for," Yang said.

Chung announced last week that Trump said he would meet Kim by May "to achieve permanent denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula.

Chung said Kim told the South Koreans during recent talks in Pyongyang that he's "committed to denuclearization" and pledged that "North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests."

Suh Hoon, chief of South Korea's spy agency, was also visiting Japan to brief officials there on the progress in talks.

Speaking after meeting Suh, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono credited recent changes in North Korea's position to increased pressure by international society. Kono said a verbal promise of denuclearization is not enough and that he and Suh agreed that the two sides, along with the U.S., will keep pressuring North Korea until it fulfills the promise with concrete actions.

He said Japan, South Korea and the U.S. should discuss details of their strategy ahead of the planned talks between the U.S. and North Korea "in order to make the dialogue a meaningful one."

North Korea's foreign trade, more than 90 percent of which passes through China, has taken a major hit since Beijing agreed to increasingly harsh U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at pressuring the North into ceasing its nuclear and missile tests and rejoining denuclearization talks.

China's trade crackdown shows how it remains indispensable both in persuading North Korea to agree to talks and in fostering and safeguarding a longer-term solution, Renmin University foreign affairs expert Cheng Xiaohe wrote in the ruling Communist Party newspaper Global Times on Monday.

"China's faithful implementation helped make the Security Council's resolution effective," Cheng wrote, citing a 52 percent decline in trade with North Korea in January against the year before that required "significant sacrifice" on China's part.

While China supports maintaining sanctions for the time being, it is prepared to restore its trading relationship with the North in the event of a breakthrough in order to "create a favorable external environment for North Korea's sustainable economic development," Cheng wrote.

The editorial followed remarks by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last week that the offer of summit talks was at least a partial result of Beijing's call for a "dual suspension" of North Korean nuclear activities in return for a postponement of U.S.-South Korean war games.

Trump has spoken with both President Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since Thursday's announcement, and said Xi "appreciates that the U.S. is working to solve the problem diplomatically rather than going with the ominous alternative.

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Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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