U.S. special envoy Christopher Hill is in Asia, trying to build a coordinated response to North Korea's recent missile tests. Hill began his Asian visit in China, where he faced the difficult job of convincing Beijing to use its influence to dissuade its North Korean ally from further launches, and to lure it back to multi-party negotiations.
With Pyongyang's test-firing of at least seven missiles this week, a sense of urgency is growing among Washington and its allies to get the North Koreans back to the negotiating table. The United States has long been pressing China to use its leverage as North Korea's closest ally and chief supplier of food and fuel to get Pyongyang to return to negotiations on the North Korean nuclear impasse.
After a day of lengthy meetings with Chinese officials Friday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said he worked to convince the Chinese to join Washington in sending a "clear signal" to Pyongyang, that launching missiles and threatening its neighbors is not acceptable.
"We want to make sure that the U.S. and China are able to work together and deal with this situation," he said. "Our Chinese interlocutors were very clear in their views of the North Korean missile launches, very clear that they have no interest in seeing this happen, and do not regard this in any way positively. So, we discussed the way ahead, and the need for us to remain very close, as we work through this."
The Chinese were upset by this week's missile tests, and have been frustrated by Pyongyang's boycotting of the negotiations that Beijing has hosted. However, the Chinese Communist leadership has stopped short of strongly condemning the North Koreans, or supporting sanctions against them, out of concern that doing so would alienate its ideological allies in Pyongyang.
Japan on Friday said it had also sought China's cooperation in condemning North Korea's actions.
Members of the U.N. Security Council are set to meet in New York to discuss how to respond to North Korea's actions. Japan proposes a tough resolution that includes sanctions - a move that will likely be vetoed by Security Council members China and Russia.
China has proposed a statement calling the launches "regrettable," but steering clear of tougher measures.
During his one-day stop in Beijing, Hill met with officials, including Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, and China's top negotiator in the multi-party talks, Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei. The U.S. official said the two sides discussed the best ways to put pressure on North Korea. He said Chinese officials assured him they will be in touch with the North Koreans in the coming days.
"They did not go into great detail about what sort of arguments and what inducements they would use, but I think they understood that this is a matter of great interest and great concern in Chinese-U.S. relations. And that what we all need to do, is speak with one voice on this," said Hill.
Wu Dawei is among a delegation of Chinese officials traveling to Pyongyang next week. China has not said what - if anything - it plans to propose to the North Koreans as a means of bringing them back to the table.
The Chinese also held high-level meetings Friday in Beijing with Japan's top negotiator to the six-party talks, which also include Russia and South Korea.