WASHINGTON -- Chinese President Hu Jintao Sunday called for early resumption of the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear dismantlement deadlocked for years over the North's provocations and ensuing international sanctions.
"China actively advocates and promotes the six-party talks process," Hu said in a written interview with The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. "We hope that proceeding from the overall interests of the denuclearization of the peninsula and regional peace and stability, the parties concerned will take active measures and create conditions for the resumption of the six-party talks."
Hu is due here Tuesday for what is called the most crucial Sino-U.S. summit in decades amid China's emergence as an economic and military power that will challenge U.S. supremacy.
North Korea will be among major topics when U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Hu for a summit meeting and a state dinner Wednesday, U.S. officials have said. Other issues high on the agenda include the revaluation of China's yuan currency, human rights, Iran's nuclear ambitions and improving bilateral ties.
The six-party talks have been stalled for more than two years due to North Korea's nuclear and missile tests and most recently the shelling of a South Korean front-line island and the torpedoing of a South Korean warship last year that killed 50 people,
including two civilians.
The events have heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula to their highest level since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
China, the North's staunchest communist ally, has called for an early, unconditional resumption of the six-party talks, which last met in December 2008.
Seoul and Washington insist that Pyongyang apologize for the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the sinking of the Cheonan before any resumption of bilateral or multilateral talks.
Hu said he sees signs of easing tensions on the Korean
"Thanks to joint efforts by China and other parties, there have been signs of relaxation," he said. "We hope that the relevant parties will seize the opportunity to engage in active interactions, resume the process of dialogue and consultation as soon as possible, and ensure that the situation on the peninsula will move forward in a positive direction."
The Chinese president was optimistic about chances of achieving North Korea's denuclearization through the multilateral nuclear talks that involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
"I am convinced that as long as the parties respect each other, engage in consultation on an equal footing, and implement the September 19 Joint Statement in a comprehensive and balanced way through the six-party talks, they will arrive at an appropriate solution to the Korean nuclear issue and contribute to lasting peace and stability on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia," he said.
The six-party deal signed on Sept. 19, 2005, by the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia calls for the North's nuclear dismantlement in return for massive economic aid and diplomatic and political benefits.
North Korea revealed in November a uranium enrichment plant that could serve as a second way of building nuclear bombs in addition to its existing plutonium program, despite Pyongyang's claims it is producing fuel for power generation.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak late last week called for the U.N. Security Council to discuss the North's uranium program, although China is reluctant to acknowledge the existence of such a program citing lack of first-hand information.
Beijing, a veto power within the U.N. Security Council, has greatly diluted a council statement on the Cheonan's sinking blamed on North Korea by an international investigation team, and not yet denounced Pyongyang for the ship's sinking and the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday called for China's greater role in restraining North Korea, which is heavily dependent on its communist neighbor for energy, food and other necessities amid years of U.N. sanctions for the North's nuclear and missile tests.
"Until North Korea demonstrates in concrete ways its intention to keep its commitments, China, along with the international community, must vigorously enforce the sanctions adopted by the Security Council last year," Clinton said. "We need to make it clear to North Korea that its recent provocations, including the announced uranium enrichment program, are unacceptable and in violation of not only Security Council resolutions, but North Korea's own commitments in the 2005 joint statement."
Despite international pressure to rein in North Korea, China has been reluctant to sanction the country as any instability could result in a massive influx of North Korean refugees across their shared border or a unified Korean Peninsula under the control of South Korea supported by the U.S.
Hu said he supports peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
"As a close neighbor and friend of both the DPRK and the ROK, China hopes that the North and the South will improve relations and achieve reconciliation and cooperation through dialogue and consultation and eventually realize independent and peaceful reunification, and we support their efforts in this regard," he said. "This is in the fundamental interests of both the North and the South and conducive to peace and stability on the peninsula."
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is North Korea's official name. ROK stands for the Republic of Korea, South Korea's official name.
Pyongyang in recent weeks has proposed unconditional inter-Korean dialogue, as Seoul, Washington and Tokyo insisted that the North's rapprochement with South Korea should precede any resumption of bilateral or multilateral talks with the North.
South Korea dismisses the North's proposals as a traditional brinkmanship of creating tensions just to win economic aid, demanding any future inter-Korean dialogue address the North's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and torpedoing of the Cheonan and nuclear programs.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in Beijing last week that North Korea's missiles and nuclear weapons will pose a threat to the U.S. within five years, urging the North to impose a moratorium on nuclear and missile testing to help revive the six-party nuclear talks.
North Korea detonated nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009, and conducted long-range missile tests three times - in 1998, 2006 and
2009 - which were seen as a partial success.
Pyongyang is believed to have at least several nuclear weapons, with some experts saying it could have already developed nuclear warheads small enough to be mounted on ballistic missiles with the help of China or Pakistan.