WASHINGTON (Yonhap News) ― U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday called for closer cooperation with China in defusing tensions on the Korea Peninsula and denuclearizing North Korea.
Speaking to reporters in Beijing after meeting with Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie, Gates stressed the need for “maintaining peace and security on the Korean Peninsula by facilitating engagement between the two Koreas and towards the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” according to a transcript released by the Pentagon.
Gates flew to Beijing on Sunday to mend military ties with China, which have been strained since early last year due to the Obama administration’s plans to sell more than $6 billion in arms to Taiwan, which Beijing claims to be part of China.
The chief U.S. defense official will also visit Seoul and Tokyo later this week to discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons and other provocations.
Gates’ Chinese trip comes one week ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington to discuss North Korea, the Chinese yuan’s revaluation, Iran’s nuclear ambitions and other mutual and global issues with U.S. President Barack Obama.
“Because of the danger of creating instability and escalating military activity in the region, this is an area where I believe the U.S. and China actually have worked cooperatively and we acknowledge and appreciate China’s constructive actions late last fall in terms of trying to tamp down tensions on the peninsula,”
Gates said. “But that is a major concern of ours and clearly a major topic of discussion on my visit here to Beijing.”
Gates dismissed Chinese concerns over a series of military drills South Korea and the U.S. jointly conducted late last year after North Korea shelled a South Korean island and torpedoed a South Korean warship. Those hostilities raised tensions on the Korean Peninsula to the highest level since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
“Our exercises have not been directed in any way at China,” he said. “Rather, they have been the result of our growing concern over the provocative behavior of North Korea. Our efforts have been directed at deterring further provocations on the part of North Korea.”
North Korea also revealed in November a uranium enrichment plant that could serve as a second way of producing nuclear bombs, aside from its existing plutonium program, despite Pyongyang’s claims it is producing fuel for power generation.
Among other issues Gates took up in the meeting with his Chinese counterpart are “maritime security, challenges posed by the spread of nuclear, space, cyber, and missile technology, and preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” the Pentagon said.