China's Xi urges better communication with South Korea over nuclear crisis

Chinese president makes remarks after meeting Seoul's special envoy to North

President Xi Jinping has said China and South Korea should improve communication and properly resolve sensitive issues, after news of a possible summit between US president Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

Mr Xi was speaking after he met South Korean national security director Chung Eui-yong, who is on a whistle-stop tour of the US, China and Russia to brief leaders on a delegation he led this month to North Korea.

Earlier in the day, Mr Chung met China's top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, briefing him on the ongoing diplomatic efforts to find a breakthrough in the North Korean nuclear standoff through dialogue. He praised Mr Xi for his role in bringing North Korea to the dialogue table.

"Our president, Moon Jae-in, and the [South Korean] government believe various advances toward achieving the goal of peace and denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula were made with active support and contribution from President Xi Jinping and the Chinese government," Mr Chung said.


Mr Yang said positive changes were emerging on the Korean peninsula.

“China commits itself to the efforts of realising denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula and resolving things through dialogue and negotiations,” Mr Yang said.

There is fresh optimism about a peaceful resolution to the nuclear crisis after the North agreed to talks and sent athletes to the Winter Olympics in the South last month, including a joint women’s hockey team.

Bitterly divided

The two Koreas have been bitterly divided since the end of the Korean War in 1953, and tensions have escalated since the North began to aggressively pursue the development of nuclear weapons.

Mr Trump and Mr Kim have traded insults over Pyongyang’s nuclear and long-range missile programme, but the US leader surprised the world last week when he said he was willing to talk to Mr Kim, the first time a sitting US president and a North Korean leader have met.

The vast majority of North Korea's foreign trade passes through China and much of it has ground to a standstill since UN Security Council sanctions over Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

Mr Trump has spoken with both Mr Xi and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe since Thursday's shock announcement.

State media is claiming credit for China in helping to bring about the easing of tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

Diplomatic breakthrough

The Communist Party's official organ People's Daily said a diplomatic breakthrough came after China's "dual suspension" plan, involving the suspension of North Korea's missile tests and a freeze on US-South Korean joint manoeuvres.

China fought alongside North Korea against the US-led forces in the Korean War, but relations have been testy since the North’s nuclear plan started to pick up pace, and Mr Xi and Mr Kim have reportedly never met.

China has been at the forefront of previous efforts to find a diplomatic solution, including hosting the six-party talks featuring both Koreas, Russia, Japan, the US and Beijing, but it has been less visible in the current round of diplomatic activity, which has largely been driven by inter-Korean dialogue.

It said in an editorial in the Global Times at the weekend that it would "help prevent North Korea from being deceived or squeezed by the US once it begins to denuclearise".

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing