By JANE PERLEZ, BEIJING (NY Times): North Korea put a positive spin Saturday on the visit of its special envoy to China, but made no mention of China’s push for the North to resume negotiations aimed at ridding the country of its nuclear weapons program.
An account by the official Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang, its first report on the visit by Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, was at odds with portrayals in China’s state-run media, which stressed President Xi Jinping’s strongly worded appeal that North Korea rejoin the so-called international six-party talks that were abandoned in 2008 when North Korea walked out.
The North’s news agency said the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, whose belligerent behavior has annoyed China, sent a personal letter to Mr. Xi that referred to the deep friendship between the two allies that “cannot be exchanged for anything.”
While he was in Beijing, Vice Marshal Choe made general references to being open to dialogue but never specifically mentioned the six-party talks, which China sees as a way to cool tensions in the region that has contributed to the United States stepping up its presence.
Chinese and American analysts said Saturday the visit by Vice Marshal Choe, a member of Mr. Kim’s inner circle, showed that North Korea was rattled by the prospect of China’s moving toward North Korea’s prime adversaries in the coming month — the United States and South Korea.
President Obama and Mr. Xi are due to meet in California in early June, their first encounter since Mr. Xi assumed the presidency. How to deter North Korea’s recent behavior, including its recent nuclear test and firing of missiles, is certain to be one of the top topics.
Park Geun-hye, the new South Korean leader, will later visit Beijing.
The three-day trip by Vice Marshal Choe, possibly to try to set up a visit by Mr. Kim, seemed to do little to repair the troubled relations between China and North Korea, said Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Peking University.
In the wake of the visit, China — the North’s economic benefactor — might make some humanitarian gestures, such as increasing food aid after it had been curtailed, Mr. Zhu said. But the fundamental split on the question of halting the nuclear program was striking, he said, especially when Vice Marshal Choe failed to take Mr. Xi’s lead on the six-party talks during their meeting.
“Obviously without denuclearization on the agenda, Beijing will not welcome Kim Jong-un’s visit,” Mr. Zhu said.
Still, faced with Beijing’s demands, he said it was possible that Mr. Kim might come around.
Even if Mr. Kim were to agree, analysts say the likelihood of a resumption of the six-party talks — which involved China, the United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and Russia — is remote. The Obama administration and South Korea have indicated that they would insist on a pledge from North Korea that it renounce nuclear weapons as a condition for resuming the talks, a demand the North has so far rejected.
Mrs. Park of South Korea, who speaks Chinese and has spoken warmly of Mr. Xi, said that she and Mr. Xi can do business together on North Korea, an attitude that no doubt displeases Mr. Kim in the North.
Moreover, with a state visit to Beijing, Ms. Park will be given the kind of pomp that Mr. Kim would almost certainly be denied, possibly increasing pressure on him to cooperate more fully with China.
“Kim Jong-un isn’t about to receive treatment that is even remotely equivalent,” to Ms. Park’s, said Jonathan D. Pollack, a Korea expert at the Brookings Institution. “But does that mean that Pyongyang is about to make any meaningful concessions that reduce the growing pressures directed against them? I detect no signs of this at all.”
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