China attempts to defuse North Korea tension with call for ‘co-operative security’

Beijing puts itself forward as honest broker as war fears remain high

North Korean soldiers with military dogs take part in drills in an unknown location in this picture taken  last week and released by North Korea’s official KCNA news agency. Photograph: Reuters/KCNA

North Korean soldiers with military dogs take part in drills in an unknown location in this picture taken last week and released by North Korea’s official KCNA news agency. Photograph: Reuters/KCNA

Sun, Apr 7, 2013, 19:50

Xi Jinping, the president of North Korea’s last remaining significant ally, has put China forward as an honest broker to defuse regional tensions, without specifically naming Pyongyang as a threat.

North Korea, led by the Kim Jong-un (30), the third generation of the Kim family to run the hermit state, has raised fears of war in the region after issuing threats of war against the United States and US-backed South Korea since the United Nations imposed sanctions after its third nuclear weapon test in February.

Its anger has been compounded by weeks of joint military exercises by South Korea and the United States, which it sees as a direct threat to its sovereignty.

Mr Xi, speaking at the China-sponsored Boao Forum in southern China, kept the message broad in his address, saying no country should be allowed to threaten world peace; his remarks could be interpreted as applying equally to the North Koreans and to the United States.

“The international community should advocate the vision of comprehensive security and co-operative security, so as to turn the global village into a big stage for common development rather than an arena where gladiators fight each other,” Mr Xi said. “And no one should be allowed to throw the region, or even the whole world, into chaos for selfish gains.”

Beijing has been under increasing pressure to use its influence with its ideological cousins in Pyongyang to get North Korea to take a step back from its current bellicose position.

Analysts say the North is pushing for direct bilateral talks with Washington as it feels such a dialogue would give the country the respect it deserves. Pyongyang has made this point many times. It also dislikes the six-party forum, involving China, the US, North and South Korea, Japan, and Russia and chaired by Beijing, that has been the previous dialogue model.

This was born out by a story from London on Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency, which quoted British diplomatic sources as saying North Korea believed the situation could be stabilised if US president Barack Obama personally called Mr Kim.

“North Korea is waiting for that call from Washington,” the agency quoted the source as saying.

The North told diplomats late last week to consider leaving Pyongyang because of the tension, but embassies appeared to view the appeal as more rhetoric and staff have stayed put.

In the South Korean capital, Seoul, there is no evidence of tension, with most city dwellers going about their business completely as normal.

At the same time, China’s patience is being stretched by the sabre-rattling across the border.

“At present tensions on the Korean peninsula are rising unceasingly and China expresses grave concern about this,” the foreign ministry in Beijing said on its website. “The Chinese government has already asked the North Korea side to earnestly ensure the safety of Chinese diplomats in North Korea, in accordance with the Vienna Convention and international laws and norms.”

There has been a certain recalibration of approach to the North Koreans in recent days. Rather than simply dismissing the North Koreans as crackpots, there is recognition that the North Koreans are very keen to be given recognition as a nuclear power.

British foreign minister William Hague said North Korea’s nuclear ambitions had to be taken seriously.

Mr Hague told Sky News yesterday that the international response “should also be very clear, very united and calm at all times because it’s important not to feed that frenetic rhetoric that we’ve seen over the last few weeks”.

Given heightened tensions, and in the light of the fact that Washington cannot justifiably condemn the North for testing missiles then go ahead and fire its own rockets off, a US defence official said that this week’s test of the Minuteman III intercontinental missile, scheduled for the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, would now be postponed, probably until next month.