U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Asia later this week for talks on how best to deal with threats of war from North Korea. He will visit South Korea, China and Japan.
With troops training in what North Korea says is a "state of war," Kerry says Pyongyang can still end international isolation over its nuclear program. And once again, China is the key.
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"They can come back to the table and join all of those other countries, including their nearest neighbor and partner, China, which has such an important role to play and which has always maintained a closer relationship to the North than any other country," he said.
China's new leaders appear to share the U.S. approach.
"We want reconciliation not tension," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei. "We want dialogue not confrontation. Conflict on the Korean peninsula is not in the interest of any party. China is committed to the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and northeast Asia."
"If China continues to engage North Korea as its largest trading partner, largest investment partner, then we could expect them to promote good governance, more economically efficient and effective policies and better social policies in Pyongyang," said Alexandre Mansourov, a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University, explaining what Washington would like to see from Beijing.
This would change North Korea from the inside.
"In the end, instead of putting pressure on North Korea," explained Mansourov, "they would help the international community to effect change inside North Korea, economic change, social change which hopefully one day will bring to the surface new political forces which could initiate some political change."
Mansourov says the key is how much influence Chinese President Xi Jinping has in North Korea.
Heritage Foundation analyst Bruce Klingner does not expect much.
"They have less influence than many would expect them to have, and they're unwilling to use what influence they do have," said Klingner. "They've really shown themselves to be part of the problem more than the solution."
He says that is because of Chinese investments in North Korea.
"They should be enforcing the U.N. Security Council resolutions and the sanctions against not only North Korea but all member nations that are in violation. That includes their own banks and businesses which we know are complicit in North Korean proliferation," explained Klingner.
The Obama administration believes China is committed to applying U.N. sanctions.
"Our understanding is they’re looking internally at what their own regulations require vis-a-vis U.N. Security Council Resolution 2094. That’s the most recent one that requires implementation," said U.S. state department spokeswomen Victoria Nuland. "It’s up to, as you know, each government to look at its own national legislation and ensure that - and regulations and ensure it’s in full compliance."
On his Asia trip, Secretary Kerry will visit South Korea, which is monitoring activity around North Korean nuclear test sites. He will also visit Japan, which is rolling out Patriot surface-to-air missile defenses at three bases, including one just outside Tokyo.