China airs pessimism about Korean tensions as Kim touts UN talks

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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 support for “regular” talks.

Chinese foreign minster Wang Yi said on Saturday that “the outlook is not optimistic” on the Korean Peninsula and urged both 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 that a departing UN delegation had agreed to communications to help ease tensions.

Wang said there was still hope for a diplomatic solution and reiterated a Chinese proposal for both sides to build trust by suspending military drills and weapons tests. “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, undersecretary general Jeffrey Feltman, left North Korea on Saturday after a visit that sought to ease tensions over the country’s nuclear weapons program. The US sent B-1B bombers to join massive aerial drills with South Korea after Kim tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach any American city.

The UN visit was part of a flurry of efforts involving countries from Canada to Germany to help facilitate talks between Kim’s regime and US President Donald Trump. North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency(KVNA) said on Saturday that the 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, which stipulates the mission of the UN based on the guarantee of international peace and security,” KCNA said in it’s English language report. The report said Feltman paid a “courtesy call” on North Korean 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 by email on Saturday that the delegation had a “broad policy dialogue” in Pyongyang and that the body might have further comment later.

“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 the negotiating table and 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 on Wednesday, US ambassador to China Terry Branstad said that the Trump administration would be ready for talks if North Korea renounced further nuclear or missile tests.

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 two sets of 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 the UN’s Feltman acknowledged the negative effect of sanctions and showed an intention to seek cooperation in keeping with body’s humanitarian mission.

Trump has sought to pressure China to rein in its ally and neighbour before it acquires a nuclear arsenal advanced enough to deter a US attack. Kim said the test showed that North Korea’s nuclear program was complete because it could deliver an atomic warhead anywhere in the US.

While Kim hasn’t yet proven he has the technology to put a warhead on an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) and deliver it safely to a target, the test has put new pressure on the US and its allies to find a solution. By declaring his weapons program 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 program 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.

Wang, the Chinese foreign minister, said that all avenues must be pursued to avoid conflict.

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