China admitted on the second day of a working-level meeting that "major" differences still remained on solving the 19-month-long standoff involving the Korean Peninsula nuclear program.
"There still exist ... some major differences between each side in some areas,'' Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said at Thursday's regular briefing.
Meanwhile, Liu characterized the talks as "frank and candid," adding that "new contents" had emerged.
"Since the talks are still under way, I will not disclose more information according to consensus reached by all the parties prior to the talks", said Liu.
The delegates from the six parties made speeches earnestly and candidly in the meeting, elaborating their stands respectively, said Liu. The speeches will be helpful in fully understanding and recognizing each other's stances.
The parties agreed to set up a working group and convene the third round of six-party talks before the end of June during the second round of talks held in February 2004 in the Chinese capital.
The inaugural working group meeting of the six-party talks, involving China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), the United States, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Russia and Japan, started Wednesday morning at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. This was the same venue for the previous two rounds of six-party talks.
"China hopes all parties remain 'flexible and patient' and seek common interests while reserving differences in line with the spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation,'' Liu said.
The spokesman said China's stance is to finally realize a "nuclear weapon-free" Korean Peninsula.
No closing date has been set for the working-level meeting, and reports suggest it might go on into the weekend.
This week's discussions could help pave the way for a third round of high-level six-way negotiations expected to take place in the Chinese capital before the end of June.
A series of bilateral and multilateral meetings were held in the lead-up to the talks, sources revealed.
The DPRK and the ROK held one-on-one talks after Thursday's session of the working-level meeting, according to the ROK's Yonhap News Agency.
In addition, the US and DPRK delegations are "prepared to meet bilaterally" on the sidelines of the working-level discussions, Japan's Kyodo News Agency reported.
China, the host of the meeting, did not confirm or deny directly any of these reports.
"All delegations during the meetings conducted all kinds of contacts and talks, bilateral or multilateral, which are quite normal and expected," Liu said.
When asked whether Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev will discuss the Sino-Kazakh pipeline program with Chinese leaders in his upcoming visit to the country, the spokesman said China is willing to further cooperation with Kazakhstan in oil and gas exploitation and transportation.
The cooperation in this field started in September 1997, aiming to build a pipeline from west Kazakhstan to west China. The pipeline, with an estimated cost of US$2.5-3 billion, will transport no less than 20 million tons of oil annually, experts said.
According to Liu, the joint exploration program in Aktyubinskaya, an oil field in northwest Kazakhstan, is going smoothly. Besides, the two sides are preparing for the second phase of the pipeline program, a 1,000-km-long pipeline from Kazakhstan's eastern Atasu to China's western Alataw Pass.
"Energy cooperation is crucial to bilateral ties. It is in the interest of both sides and enjoys promising prospects," Liu said.
Also at yesterday's briefing, the spokesman announced that Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai will pay an official visit to China from May 20 to 24 at the invitation of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
The upcoming visit of Phan Van Khai to China is a major event for both countries and China believes it will promote further development of the Sino-Vietnamese good-neighborly partnership, said Liu.
He said China and Vietnam kept frequent high-level visits in recent years and Phan's upcoming visit is an important visit of the two countries in 2004. During his visit, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will hold talks with him and Chinese President Hu Jintao and other Chinese leaders will meet with him.
Leaders of the two countries will exchange opinions on bilateral relations, and especially on boosting bilateral cooperation, Liu said.
Besides Beijing, Phan will also visit Wuhan and Shenyang, he said.
Liu said China and Vietnam are neighbors with common borders and people of the two countries have long-standing friendly exchanges.
At the turning of the century, leaders of the two countries set down the principle of long-term stability, future orientation, friendly neighborliness, and comprehensive cooperation.
Under the guidance of the principle, the Sino-Vietnamese relations develop well in general, Liu said.
He said leaders of the two sides have kept close contacts, and the bilateral economic and trade relations have been deepened continuously. The bilateral trade volume increased from US$32.27 million in 1991 to US$4.6 billion in 2003. The issues left over by history of the two countries, such as the border issue, are gradually resolved.
He said the healthy and stable development of the Sino-Vietnamese relations is in the fundamental interest of the two peoples.
The spokesman also announced President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Federative Republic of Brazil will pay a state visit to China from May 22 to 27 at the invitation of Chinese President Hu Jintao.
(Sources including China Daily and Xinhua News Agency, May 14, 2004)