China has told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice it will work to resume multi-party negotiations on North Korea's nuclear programs.
Chinese officials Sunday said Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing had spoken with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and said Beijing would remain in contact with all parties involved so that talks could resume as soon as possible.
Beijing's concerns have mounted after North Korea said Thursday that it has nuclear weapons, and said it will not return to the negotiating table until the United States ceases what the North calls its "hostile policy."
Over the past two years, China has held three rounds of talks, bringing together Japan, North and South Korea, the United States, and Russia. The process has been stalled since North Korea refused to attend a fourth session that had been expected last September.
The standoff centers on Washington's demands for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs. North Korea refuses to do so unless the United States provides economic aid and assurances that it will not invade.
China, which lost hundreds of thousands of troops supporting Pyongyang in the Korean War a half century ago, increasingly sees its old ally as a liability. Analysts say Beijing is not willing to risk important trade ties with the United States and South Korea to defend the Stalinist North.
Asian Studies professor Bruce Jacobs at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, says that with the threat of nuclear war next door and thousands of North Korean refugees streaming into its territory, China's main concern now is to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully.
"I don't think the Chinese are really thinking in terms of actual defense of the North Korean regime," he said. "I think they would be put in a very difficult situation if the United States, for example, invaded the North. But they certainly are not in a difficult position if their main effort is to try to use talking to bring the North Koreans into line."
Many North Asia experts say China, as the chief supplier of food and fuel to the impoverished North, is in a better position than any other nation to persuade Pyongyang to resume dialogue. On Sunday, South Korean news media reported that Foreign Minister Bank Ki-moon said his government also thought Beijing should increase pressure on Pyongyang.
In the past, North Korea has agreed to negotiate after China offered it economic assistance. The Chinese Foreign Ministry's statement on Sunday did not specify what measures China would take to move along the negotiations process.
North Korea last week demanded one-on-one talks with the United States. Washington says any negotiation should be in the six-party framework.