BEIJING -- China on May 25 urged the United States and North Korea to find middle ground and continue direct dialogue, a day after U.S. President Donald Trump announced the cancellation of a June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang emphasized at a regular press conference that the two leaders had expressed their willingness to sit down and talk. "We hope that the DPRK (North Korea) and the U.S. will cherish the positive progress achieved recently, remain patient, send out goodwill to each other and meet each other halfway, continue to commit themselves to resolving each other's concerns through dialogue and negotiation and advance the denuclearization of the peninsula," Lu said.
Beijing is the main diplomatic and economic supporter of Pyongyang, but a stable relationship with Washington is its most important diplomatic issue. China is apparently concerned about the possibility of falling into a difficult position if confrontation between the U.S. and North Korea deepens.
The Chinese media reported on the summit's cancellation in a breaking news format on the night of May 24, but the official statement on the matter came out only in Lu's press conference that began at 3 p.m. the next day -- an indication that China tried carefully to figure out the implications of the Trump announcement.
Chinese President Xi Jinping succeeded in drastically improving ties with Kim through their two meetings in late March and early May. The Chinese leader has offered economic assistance and support for Pyongyang's stance that denuclearization must proceed step by step and the country must be "rewarded" for each step. When North Korea began complaining about the U.S. handling of the denuclearization issue and taking a tougher position, Beijing defended Pyongyang, saying that Kim's announcement to suspend nuclear tests and other actions should be given a positive evaluation.
In response, the United States has shown concerns about the rapprochement between China and North Korea. President Trump told reporters on May 22 that Kim's attitude had changed after his two meetings with Xi. He said that "President Xi is a world-class poker player," suggesting that the Chinese leader is maneuvering in a power game against the U.S. over the Korean Peninsula.
Lu of the Chinese Foreign Ministry dismissed the suggestion that China was responsible for Kim's attitude change at the May 25 press conference. "China has always played a positive and constructive role on the Korean Peninsula issue without any ulterior motive at all," Lu stated. Nevertheless, this North Korean factor is causing new waves in the already choppy waters between Beijing and Washington that have been rough due to confrontation over trade and Taiwan, which China regards a renegade province but which the U.S. supports.
Some Chinese media outlets have given positive reports on the situation, saying that the presence of China as a bridge between the U.S. and North Korea is increasing in importance. However, professor Shi Yinhong of the School of International Studies of Renmin University of China, says that the summit's cancellation is "nothing but damage to China" and causes diplomatic difficulties and uncertainties. "China must consider various scenarios and be ready to protect its interests," Shi said.
(Japanese original by Keisuke Kawazu, Beijing Bureau)