China’s top nuclear envoy is set to discuss political solutions with South Korean officials amid a continuing tug of war among countries over how to respond to a series of advanced weapons tests by North Korea.
Liu Xiaoming, special representative of the Chinese government on Korean Peninsula affairs, arrived in South Korea on Sunday.
Liu’s first visit to Seoul after his appointment in April 2021 comes at a critical juncture when North Korea has ratcheted up tension on the Korean Peninsula as the South Korean government changes hands.
Commercial satellite images also indicate that Pyongyang has continued to restore access to a yet unused tunnel at the Punggye-ri testing site in a potential attempt to resume nuclear testing.
The Chinese chief nuclear envoy on Sunday said he would meet officials of the incumbent Moon Jae-in government and the incoming Yoon Suk-yeol administration and discuss “political solutions” to North Korean issues.
But Liu emphasized that the US and North Korea are responsible for resolving the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula during his impromptu news conference at Incheon Airport.
Later on Twitter, he reiterated the message that “China has played a positive role in addressing the Peninsula issue and will continue to do so in its own ways. However, the key to resolving the issue is in the hands of the DPRK and the US.”
Liu emphasized that China and South Korea were “important cooperation partners” in seeking political solutions.
“We are ready to work with the ROK to push forward the political settlement process of the Peninsula issue,” he added.
Liu is set to have the first face-to-face meeting with his South Korean counterpart, Noh Kyu-duk, on Tuesday morning. Both sides are to “share their assessment of the recent grave situation on the Korean Peninsula and discuss ways to cooperate in managing the situation on the Korean Peninsula in a stable manner,” South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
Liu is also scheduled to hold talks with South Korean Vice Unification Minister Choi Young-joon and pay a courtesy visit to Unification Minister Lee In-young on Tuesday afternoon.
At the airport on Sunday, Liu emphasized that China is in support of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But he also reiterated China’s original position that “each country’s security should also be taken into consideration,” according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
The envoy also underlined that he will discuss “not only the phenomena that have emerged outwardly but also their root causes” of the current situation on the peninsula.
Liu said the root cause of the hostility between the US and North Korea is deep distrust between the two countries, and called on both sides to engage in meaningful and sincere dialogue.
“We object to any hostile act which will escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula. We hope we will find ways to lower tensions in Korean Peninsula issues through consultations with the South,” he told reporters.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Friday said Liu’s first visit aims to seek political solutions to the issues of the Korean Peninsula.
“Safeguarding peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and advancing the political settlement process of the Peninsula issue is in the common interest of regional countries including China and the ROK,” he said during a regular press briefing.
But China’s approach to North Korea appears to differ from the Yoon government’s position which supports maintaining UN economic sanctions until North Korea’s complete denuclearization.
Foreign Minister nominee Park Jin on Monday said the incoming government would take the initiative in enforcing UNSC resolutions during his parliamentary confirmation hearing.
“We will take a lead on international cooperation in implementing sanctions on North Korea to make North Korea realize that there is nothing to gain from possessing nuclear weapons,” Park said.Seoul trip follows US, Europe visits
Liu’s visit to South Korea comes right after being in France, Russia, the US, and the UK, which are the UN Security Council’s four permanent members excluding China, as well as Germany and Switzerland in March and April.
Liu met with senior officials and, in response to the North Korean nuclear issue, called for all parties to exercise restraint, refrain from taking actions that could further escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and address each other’s concerns through dialogue.
The envoy’s series of trips are significant given that the UNSC members in late March could not come to a consensus on the response to North Korea’s first full-scale launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile since November 2017.
China and Russia voiced opposition to the US proposal to introduce a new UNSC resolution and instead urged to ease economic sanctions on North Korea, shifting the responsibility onto the US for failing to address North Korea’s security concerns.
In late April, Liu also visited the Europe Union headquarters in Brussels and called for the EU to “hold an objective and impartial position, properly handle sensitive issues, and play a constructive role on the Peninsula issue,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Liu also made a rare visit to New York between March 29 to April 2 and held a series of meetings with senior diplomats from UNSC’s 14 member countries except for his country and the two Koreas.
Liu emphasized that the UNSC should “further build consensus for political settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue so as to prevent the peninsula from sliding back into tense confrontation,” according to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.