A senior Chinese nuclear official Friday called on the United States to hold direct bilateral talks with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) under the framework of the six-party talks.
"To restart negotiations and make progress, I hope Washington agrees to hold bilateral talks with Pyongyang," said Yang Xiyu, director of the Foreign Ministry's Office for Korean Peninsula Issue.
Such talks with Pyongyang could be similar to those held separately between the United States and the four other parties -- China, Japan, Russia and the Republic of Korea (ROK) -- in the last three rounds of talks, he said. Beijing has hosted the three rounds of six-party talks since August 2003.
It is reported that in the third round of talks last June, the US side had separate informal contacts with the DPRK delegation.
Yang's remarks follow Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei's visit this week to Seoul, during which top US nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill said that his country was ready to hold an earnest dialogue with Pyongyang within the framework of the six-party talks and discuss in detail any issue Pyongyang is concerned about.
All the parties concerned should make efforts to seek an end to the current standoff on resumption of negotiations, Yang said.
"It is the common responsibility of all the six parties involved to prevent the escalation of the tense standoff and resume talks to address the nuclear issue at an early date," he said.
Yang was referring to Pyongyang's statement on February 10 when it officially announced for the first time that it had manufactured nuclear weapons and said it decided to indefinitely suspend the six-party talks because of the US' hostile policy towards the DPRK.
However, during Chinese Communist Party envoy Wang Jiarui's visit to Pyongyang late last month, DPRK leader Kim Jong-il said that his country stood for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and would return to negotiations at any time if "conditions are met."
Some have blamed China for lack of progress, saying it did not bring its "great potential influence" and "economic leverage" on Pyongyang into full play during the talks.
Beijing, which is Pyongyang's most vital economic lifeline, has repeated that it objected to economic sanctions.
"We oppose sanctions or applying pressure; and we oppose war even more so," former top Chinese nuclear negotiator Wang Yi, who is now Chinese ambassador to Japan, said at the first round of talks in 2003.
Yang said sanctions would be futile.
"Even if China has some so-called leverage on the issue, we won't abuse it since sanctions often pose new problems or cause collateral damage while failing to address what they are meant to achieve," he said.
Zhang Liangui, an expert on Korean studies with the Beijing-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, also warned that the DPRK people would be the first victims of sanctions that could lead a humanitarian disaster in the region.
Meanwhile, a flurry of diplomatic activities is set to continue. A source from diplomatic circles in Beijing said that Chinese Ambassador for Korean Peninsula Affairs Ning Fukui will again visit Washington "very soon."
"China will continue to push forward the six-party talks based upon its long-consistent positions," Yang said.
Some experts on international relations also warned that if the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue remained unsettled for long, there would be only losers in the region.
"Now, the most important thing is to hold talks on a regular basis," said Zhang.
"Only by doing so can they address substantial problems on the issue at an early date; otherwise, the longer the process goes on, the tenser the situation will become," the expert said.
It is China's firm belief that DPRK's possession of nuclear weapons cannot diminish its security concerns. On the contrary, it will only trigger a negative fallout and ultimately damage DPRK's security interests.
Yang said the root cause of the nuclear issue was the remaining shadow of the Cold War in the Korean Peninsula and the deadlock is because of the lack of mutual trust between the US and the DPRK.
"The two sides are too far apart," he said.
Some analysts expressed the fear that if the US administration's main goal is to isolate the DPRK and force its government to collapse, the resolution of the nuclear issue would remain elusive and could make war more likely.
Fan Jishe, an international relations specialist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the government think-tank, said: "If the US administration's main goal is to change the DPRK government, it would be a dangerous strategy in the region."
The DPRK, which is politically and economically isolated from most of the world, might have no option but to resort to force after being labeled as being part of an "axis of evil" and threatened with preemptive nuclear strikes, Fan said.
Meanwhile, Washington is worried that Pyongyang will use "nuclear blackmail" to get what it wants, US newspapers said last month after the DPRK announced it had nuclear weapons.
Yang put into perspective the nature of the arduous negotiations hosted by China. "It is a daunting challenge to bring the sole global superpower and a long-isolated small country to the negotiating table and seek a complete and fair solution to the strategic concerns of both sides."
However, Fan remains optimistic.
"The most significant is that all the concerned parties have realized that 'conversation' rather than 'confrontation' is the best way to resolve the nuclear issue."
(China Daily March 5, 2005)