China's Vice Foreign Minister is in South Korea, a first stop on a trip that will also take him to Japan for discussions on regional security issues, including the year-long nuclear standoff with North Korea.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo arrived in Seoul on Sunday. During his three days in South Korea, he is to meet with the country's foreign affairs and unification ministers, and North Korea's nuclear program is expected to be high on their agenda.
Mr. Dai played a key role in bringing about the six-nation talks held in Beijing three months ago. The aim of those talks, which included North and South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan, was to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
North Korea has agreed in principle to a second round of talks, although it has thrown out new conditions and cast doubt on whether it will actually attend.
Still, the other parties are actively proceeding on the assumption that the new talks will be held. The Chinese envoy will discuss the Korean issue with officials in Japan later in the week. His trip comes on the heels of a meeting in Washington last week between Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Mr. Wang indicated on Friday that China was pushing ahead with plans for the next round of multilateral talks.
The visit to South Korea by Mr. Dai comes against the backdrop of a report from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, which concludes that North Korea has already validated its nuclear weapons designs without conducting an actual nuclear test.
In a report submitted to Congress, the CIA states that Pyongyang has the capability to verify its nuclear designs using conventional explosives tests.
North Korea has suggested it may conduct a nuclear test to show the world that it is a nuclear power. However, the CIA report casts doubt on that, saying such a test would "entail risks for Pyongyang of precipitating an international backlash and further isolation."
To end the stalemate, Pyongyang wants a guarantee that the United States will not attack it, and promises of economic aid. Washington has said the first step towards progress is for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program in a verifiable manner, although American officials have said they are willing to provide Pyongyang with security guarantees of some kind.