China Steps Up Efforts on North Korea

China seems to be ready to try and persuade North Korea to return to the Six Party Talks.

A source within Beijing diplomatic circles quoted a senior figure as saying that China is now making an effort to restart negotiations, and is planning to dispatch an envoy to Pyongyang.

The source said that with the passing of a month-long cooling-off period, China apparently felt that the time had come to start up the Six Party Talks once more. Wang Jiarui, Leader of the International Department of the CPC Central Committee and the one who visited Kim Jong Il in January of this year, is considered the most likely envoy.

Other Six Party Talks member countries reacted positively to the move. A South Korean diplomatic source said, “The Chinese move is quite significant for attempts to reverse the current stalemate regardless of whether or not it works, because China is the only party which North Korea cares about.”

It is not yet known whether North Korea will react positively to Chinese persuasion, not least because of Pyongyang’s discontent at Chinese approval of the U.N. Security Council President’s Statement condemning the April 5th missile launch. As a result of the announcement of U.N. sanctions, North Korea gave forewarning of its plans for additional nuclear tests and formally withdrew from the Six Party Talks.

Some analysts suggest that it will take more time to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table, noting that North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun remarked decisively at the Conference of Nonaligned Countries on the 29th of April that North Korea would not take part in the Six Party Talks again.

Some experts paint an even bleaker picture of the future of the talks. Jack Pritchard, former-President Bush’s special envoy to North Korea and a participant in the four-party discourse of the 1990s, suggested in today’s Chosun Ilbo that four-party talks could be considered as an alternative to the six-party approach.

In a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade press briefing on Thursday, Spokesperson Moon Tae Young took a question on negative predications for the maintenance of the Six Party Talks. He responded, “U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Bosworth is making a round of visits through China, South Korea, Japan and Russia discussing ways to resume it. For now, the members of the talks are holding to the position that the Six Party Talks are the best framework for negotiations.”

Spokesperson Moon also said that while he had heard the rumors of Chinese intervention in the six-party process, he had not heard it officially. He also said that he “still did not know what Special Representative Bosworth will talk about” when he visits Seoul on Friday.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Obama had a brief telephone conversation with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday in advance of the arrival of Special Representative Bosworth in Beijing today. According to a White House press release, President Obama “described to President Hu his concerns over recent actions by North Korea,” underscoring the importance of Special Representative Bosworth’s efforts to kick start the stalled nuclear negotiations.