How much to pressure North Korea is expected to be a key point of contention in the upcoming annual strategic talks between the United States and China as Washington is sending strong signals that Beijing should do more.
The U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED), set for Monday and Tuesday in Beijing, will take place after the U.S. Treasury Department designated the North as a "primary money laundering concern" in an effort to cut off the provocative regime from the international banking system.
It was the first time the U.S. has blacklisted the North as a money laundering concern and the decision also came well ahead of the August deadline for such designation under the sanctions law. That shows the U.S. is determined to increase pressure on Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs.
The annual talks also came after reports that the U.S. Department of Commerce has looking into whether Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei Technologies Co. exported goods containing American technology to North Korea, Cuba, Iran and Syria.
These decisions could be a message to China not to relax pressure on the North amid signs of a thaw in relations between Beijing and Pyongyang. Earlier this week, a top envoy of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un paid a visit to Chinese President Xi Jinping and the two sides expressed their willingness to improve strained relations.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel said earlier this week that ensuring pressure on the North will be a key topic for the upcoming talks with China.
A senior Treasury official also said Friday that the U.S. will urge China to put further pressure on the North.
"China has the ability to both create pressure and use that as a leverage that is a very important part of global efforts to isolate North Korea and get North Korea to change its policies," the official told reporters during a visit to Seoul by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, according to the Wall Street Journal.
China, considered the only country with any meaningful influence over the North as a key provider of food and fuel for the impoverished neighbor, condemned the North's nuclear and missile tests and even backed the toughest-ever U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang.
But critics have expressed doubts about how far Beijing can go in implementing the sanctions as China has long been reluctant to use its leverage for fear that pushing the regime too hard could lead to its collapse, instability on its border and ultimately the emergence of a pro-U.S. nation next door.
Analysts also say that China could use the North Korea card as a counterweight to the strengthening trilateral security cooperation between the U.S., South Korea and Japan. (Yonhap)