China urges Korean nations to ‘seize opportunity’ of peace

Beijing wants them to de-escalate the military stand-off between North and South

A woman walks past a public TV screen showing a news clip with the photos of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in Tokyo, Wednesday, March 7, 2018. After years of refusal, Kim is willing to discuss the fate of his atomic arsenal with the United States and has expressed a readiness to suspend nuclear and missile tests during such talks, a senior South Korean official said Tuesday.  Kim also agreed to meet with South Korea's president next month. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
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China has cautiously welcomed an agreement by North and South Korea to hold a historic summit, urging both sides to “seize the current opportunity” to promote the denuclearisation of the peninsula.

The foreign ministry issued a statement late on Tuesday praising the “positive outcomes” of a meeting between South Korean envoys and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang.

The two countries agreed to hold a summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the Demilitarised Zone in late April, according to Seoul.

Pyongyang was also said to be ready to halt nuclear and missile tests, and consider the dramatic step of abandoning costly and controversial WMD programmes if the United States agrees not to attack or overthrow the regime.

“We hope that the DPRK and the ROK can earnestly implement the relevant consensus and continue with their efforts to advance reconciliation and cooperation,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in the statement, using the acronyms of the North and South.

“We hope that all relevant parties can seize the current opportunity, work for the shared goal and make concerted efforts to promote the process of denuclearisation of the Peninsula and politically resolving the Korean Peninsula issue,” Mr Geng said.

“China is willing to continue to play its due role to this end.”

Earlier on Tuesday, before the landmark announcement, Mr Geng had told reporters that “interactions” between North and South Korea “should be expanded” to include the US.

US President Donald Trump welcomed Pyongyang’s offer as positive – and apparently sincere – crediting Washington’s “very, very strong” sanctions push, as well as “big help” from China, for the potential diplomatic breakthrough.

Calling the statements coming out of both Seoul and Pyongyang “very positive,” Mr Trump refused to rule out a historic meeting with the North Korean leader.

“We have come a long way at least rhetorically with North Korea,” the president said. “It would be a great thing for the world, it would be a great thing for North Korea, it would be a great thing for the peninsula, but we will see what happens,” he said in the Oval Office.

“We are going to do something, one way or the other, we are going to do something and not let that situation fester,” Mr Trump said, in a reference to the standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

The breakthrough should please Beijing as the Asian superpower, fearing a conflict at its border, has repeatedly called for negotiations to resolve the nuclear crisis.

China has also urged the US, Japan and South Korea to suspend joint military drills in the region in return for North Korea to halt its nuclear activities.

Two senior South Korean officials who met with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un this week will depart for Washington on Thursday to brief US officials on the outcome of their meeting, a South Korean administration official said on Wednesday.

A detailed itinerary has yet to be confirmed, as well as whether they will meet Mr Trump, the official told reporters.

National Security Office head Chung Eui-yong, who has close contacts in the United States, and National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon, who is known as South Korea’s top North Korea negotiator, will be making the trip. Chung said on Tuesday he had a message from Kim Jong Un he will relay to US officials.