China calls US-North Korea summit an ‘important step’

BEIJING (AP) — The United States (US)-North Korea summit in Vietnam last week was an “important step” toward denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula, China’s Foreign Minister said yesterday, despite criticism that the meeting ended early without leading to an agreement.

The Hanoi talks between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un were “worthy of full recognition”, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a news conference on the sidelines of the annual meeting of China’s ceremonial legislature.

“We feel like this meeting was an important step in finding a political resolution to the (Korean) Peninsula issue,” Wang said. That the two “leaders overcame obstacles to meet again in a candid face-to-face discussion itself represents a positive development that must be applauded”.

He encouraged the two countries to “remain patient”, and noted that many issues concerning the peninsula “cannot be solved overnight”.

Trump and Kim’s summit ended abruptly February 28 after a dispute over how much sanctions relief Washington should provide Pyongyang in return for nuclear disarmament steps. No agreement was reached.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. – AP

Wang said China favours a phased approach to ending the North’s nuclear programme in return for a reduction in sanctions, in contrast with US demands that Pyongyang end the programme permanently in one fell swoop.

“All parties need to have reasonable expectations and one should not set the bar too high at the outset or make unilateral, unrealistic demands,” Wang said.

“In China’s view, the key to solving the issue lies in not being a prisoner of history and breaking the cycle of mistrust,” he said, adding China would continue playing its “irreplaceable role” in promoting negotiations.

China is North Korea’s only major ally and a chief provider of energy and trade that keeps the country’s broken economy afloat. In recent years, however, China has agreed to increasingly strict United Nations sanctions over the North’s nuclear programmes and missile tests, although Pyongyang has not carried out such activities for more than a year.

After a period of frosty times, Chinese leader Xi Jinping met four times with Kim last year, Wang noted. He declined to say whether Xi had any plans to visit Pyongyang.

During the wide-ranging two-hour briefing, Wang also strongly defended China’s massive “belt and road” initiative against accusations it is miring poor nations in poverty to pay for Chinese financed ports, power plants and highways. Wang said the USD1 trillion infrastructure programme linking China to Europe, Africa and other parts of Asia had been endorsed by 72 countries and had already racked up considerable success.

China will host a second global meeting on the initiative in Beijing next month, which Wang said would be bigger and more ambitious that the first.