Beijing at center of a flurry of diplomacy

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Beijing at center of a flurry of diplomacy

As the United States emphasizes the vital role China has in reining in Pyongyang, Washington this week welcomes Wu Dawei, China’s chief North Korea envoy, while the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff goes on a rare visit to Beijing.

Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se also heads out on his first Beijing trip since taking his position tomorrow ahead of President Park Geun-hye’s scheduled trip to Beijing in May, following her visit to the U.S.

Wu, who heads the stalled six-party talks on North Korea, arrived in Washington Sunday for a four-day visit on the invitation of Glyn Davies, U.S. special envoy for North Korea. He is expected to have in-depth exchanges on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula with U.S. officials.

In a separate meeting, Davies is slated to meet with Shinsuke Sugiyama, Japan’s chief delegate to the six-party talks, later this week.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, after a visit to Beijing last week emphasized that China should “become more engaged” in the effort to pressure the North as its closest ally and main trading partner, a message he reiterated in a briefing to U.S. lawmakers in Washington. Kerry said that China has “indicated its willingness to work with us,” adding that “without China, North Korea would collapse,” at a Senate hearing last week.

Pyongyang last week said that a precondition to restart dialogue would be the U.S. ending UN sanctions that followed the North’s third nuclear test in February and joint military exercises with the South.

“That’s the first word of negotiation or thought of that we’ve heard from them since all of this has begun,” said Kerry, calling Pyonyang’s response “at least a beginning gambit.”

Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported Saturday that the North indicated in mid-April its willingness to talk with Beijing, and that a high-ranking Chinese official like Wu would be sent for discussions in Pyongyang. China is expected to encourage the North to engage in dialogue either with the U.S. or to rejoin the six-party talks, said the Asahi’s source.

Following Kerry’s visit to Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing in the midst of rising tension on the Korean Peninsula, U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is taking his own trip.

Dempsey made a three-hour stop in Seoul Sunday, meeting with the chairman of Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Jung Seung-jo, and Army Gen. James Thurman to discuss the Pyongyang issue before heading to a rare visit to Beijing for several days. After that he stops in Tokyo.

Jung and Thurman earlier this month canceled a Washington trip because of the escalating threats from the North. Dempsey and Jung instead presided over the 37th Military Committee Meeting over video conference Thursday, reaffirming that the alliance will “respond firmly to any provocation by North Korea” in a joint communique afterwards.

After his short Seoul visit Dempsey was quoted as saying by the Pentagon, “Seoul is rather normal” but “in a state of heightened readiness.”

Dempsey said though North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is following in the footsteps of his predecessors, there is a key difference: Rather than “a series of cyclic provocations,” as was typical in the past, the allied forces are now seeing a prolonged campaign of provocative words and actions. A Korean army official said Dempsey will convey to Beijing that the B-52 and B-2 bombers, F-22 stealth jets and antinuclear submarines deployed near Korea recently were not meant to keep China in check but were in retaliation to the North’s nuclear threat.

By Sarah Kim, Park Seung-hee []

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