Clinton Appeals To China To Calm Korea Tensions

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her counterparts from Japan and South Korea met in Washington on Monday and called on China to use its influence over North Korea to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula. Absent from the table was China, which has argued that resuming the Six Party talks aimed at denuclearizing North Korea would help. Clinton says a resumption of talks now would only reward the North.

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Diplomats from three allies met this week to talk about a common problem. The allies are Japan, South Korea and the United States, represented at this meeting by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The allies are all concerned about North Korea. That country has steadily raised tensions, first revealing a nuclear facility, and then opening fire on the South. The allies all agree they can't do much to control the North, except to appeal to a country that wasn't at the meeting - China.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Secretary of State Clinton called it a landmark meeting. She consulted with her counterparts from Japan and South Korea. And they came out with a firm and united message to Pyongyang.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): We all agree that North Korea's provocative and belligerent behavior jeopardizes peace and stability in Asia.

KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton raised concerns about the uranium enrichment program that North Korea recently revealed and held a moment of silence for the victims of a North Korean artillery attack on a South Korean island last month, an action that she said violated the 1953 armistice agreement that ended the Korean War.

Though she didn't invite China to the meeting - which included only treaty allies - she did have a message for Beijing.

Sec. CLINTON: They have a unique relationship with North Korea, and we would hope that China would work with us to send a clear, unmistakable message to North Korea that they have to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose in ending their provocative actions, and there are many ways that they can do that.

KELEMEN: This is the case the U.S. has made to China for the past decade, according to Victor Cha, a former White House advisor on Asia, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He says the U.S. has been frustrated and Japan and South Korea share those frustrations.

Mr. VICTOR CHA (Center for Strategic and International Studies): There's a feeling among all three countries that China, going back to the sinking of the Cheonan, the South Korean naval vessel, last March, followed by the shelling of the island in South Korea, China really has not been carrying its weight in using its leverage to push the North Koreans to behave more responsibly.

KELEMEN: Cha, who teaches at Georgetown University, doesn't think the U.S., South Korea and Japan came together to scheme against China. But the symbolism of the meeting was clear - China needs to start getting tough.

And he says North Korea policy is widely known in Washington as the land of lousy options. Military action could be most effective, he argues, but warns that could quickly lead to a full scale war, which no one wants.

Mr. CHA: So you're left with these less than desirable options, including negotiations, sanctions, and relying on China to try to carry a lot of our water.

KELEMEN: Chinese President Hu Jintao is said to have warned President Obama not to let the situation spin out of control - arguing there needs to be dialogue, not confrontation. China is the host of the so-called six-party talks on North Korean nuclear disarmament and wants a new round of negotiations to begin quickly.

Secretary Clinton, though, says she doesn't want to reward North Korea for - in her words - shattering the peace. She says before any more six-party talks, North Korea should improve relations with the South and take some steps to carry through on the promises it made to the other countries involved in the negotiations back in 2005.

That thought was echoed by her Japanese counterpart, Seiji Maehara, who spoke through an interpreter.

Mr. SEIJI MAEHARA (Japanese Foreign Minister): (Through translator) We demand North Korea to sincerely act in accordance with the commitment they made for the denuclearization of the peninsula.

KELEMEN: While Japan, South Korea and the U.S. say they are coordinating even more closely now, they're also appealing to China and to Russia, another member of the six-party talks, to help them deal with an increasingly belligerent and always unpredictable North Korea.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

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