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Kerry Seeks China's Help in Easing Tensions in NKorea, Maritime Disputes

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Beijing for talks aimed at encouraging Chinese leaders to put more pressure on ally North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program.

Kerry began his visit by meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. He also met other senior leaders, including Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Afterwards, Kerry described his meeting with Mr. Xi as "very constructive" and "positive."

"We hope that 2014 will be a year of concrete progress in defining the new modern relationship, managing our differences effectively, and finding a way to cooperate practically wherever possible."

Kerry arrived in the Chinese capital early Friday from South Korea, where he met with President Park Geun-hye. The meeting came as North and South Korea held their highest-level talks in seven years.

In Seoul, Kerry said China has a unique and critical role in persuading Pyongyang to resume talks on its nuclear program. He acknowledged Beijing's help in recent months, but said China can do more as the leading supplier of fuel and banking services to North Korea.

The North quit the six-nation talks in 2009. It has since rebuilt some of its nuclear facilities and alarmed a host of regional and Western governments with several underground nuclear tests.

Responding to Kerry's comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said Friday that Beijing has been putting forward its "best efforts" in dealing with Pyongyang.

"We have always believed the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula should be solved through the framework of the six-party talks. At the same time, we want to find a balanced solution to the legitimate and reasonable concerns of North Korea."

Kerry is also expected to raise the issue of China's maritime disputes with its neighbors, which have sent Beijing's relations with Japan and others plummeting in recent months.

Washington has been critical of what it sees as China's attempts to gain control over contested parts of the East and South China Seas. Last week, U.S. officials called on China to clarify or amend its vast maritime claims, suggesting they may be inconsistent with international law.

In Seoul, Kerry reiterated that the disputed East China Sea islands claimed by both China and Japan fall under a treaty obligating the U.S. to defend Tokyo in the case of an attack. The comments were certain to anger Beijing, which has encouraged the U.S. to not take sides.

China accuses U.S. ally Japan of raising tensions over the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, by purchasing them from their private Japanese owner last year.

In an editorial ahead of Kerry's arrival in Beijing, the official Xinhua news agency said Washington must "press Japan to call off its provocative moves." It warned the U.S. should know that China will "not hesitate to take steps to secure its key national interests."

China-Japan ties were also strained by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit late last year to a Tokyo shrine that commemorates, among other war dead, several World War Two war criminals.

The Asia trip is Kerry's fifth visit to the region since becoming the top U.S. diplomat last year. In addition to South Korea and China, he visits Indonesia on Saturday.

In Indonesia, the last leg of Kerry's trip, he is set to deliver a major speech on climate change. Analysts say the archipelago nation is especially vulnerable to climate change.

From Jakarta, Kerry heads Monday to the United Arab Emirates to meet Gulf leaders on Iran nuclear talks, Syria's civil war and Middle East peace talks.

Some have accused the White House of focusing on the Middle East at the expense of its so-called economic and military "pivot" to Asia.

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