Blinken urges China to convince North Korea to denuclearize

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, bump elbows with South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong after an initialing ceremony for Special Measures Agreement at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, Pool)

SEOUL – America’s top diplomat on Thursday pressed China to use its “tremendous influence” to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, hours after the North said it will ignore U.S. offers to resume negotiations.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke at the end of security talks in Seoul, which included Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korea's foreign and defense ministers. Their first so-called “two plus two” meeting in five years came as President Joe Biden pushes to restore America’s alliances in Asia in the face of challenges from China and North Korea.

“Beijing has an interest, a clear self-interest, in helping to pursue denuclearization of (North Korea) because it is a source of instability. It is a source of danger and obviously a threat to us and our partners,” Blinken told a news conference.

He said Beijing has a critical role to persuade North Korea to denuclearize because most of the North’s external trade goes through China. Blinken stressed that China is obligated by U.N. Security Council resolutions to fully enforce sanctions imposed over North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests.

China, the North’s last major ally and biggest aid benefactor, has long been suspected of avoiding completely implementing sanctions on the North. Some observers say China believes a unified, pro-U.S. Korea would undermine its strategic interests and worries that a humanitarian disaster in North Korea could push swarms of refugees flooding over the countries’ border.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Beijing would “continue to play a constructive role” in working toward a political settlement on the Korean Peninsula. Zhao reiterated Thursday that China advocates a “two-track approach” to the issue, whereby the U.S. would offer security guarantees to North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang abandoning its nuclear weapons programs.

“All parties concerned should move in the same direction, work together to manage differences, actively promote dialogue and contacts, and maintain regional peace and stability,” Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing Thursday.

Earlier Thursday, Choe Son Hui, North Korea’s first vice foreign minister, confirmed Blinken’s previous announcement that Washington had reached out to Pyongyang through several channels starting in mid-February, but it hasn’t received any response.