U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit China later this month for talks on North Korea, the State Department announced Friday, as Washington steps up efforts to win Beijing's cooperation for its push to punish Pyongyang for its fourth nuclear test.
Kerry will visit Beijing on Jan. 27 for "meetings with senior leaders of the Chinese government to discuss a range of global, regional, and bilateral issues, including North Korea," the department said in a release without elaborating.
Ahead of Kerry's trip, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken is also scheduled to visit China next week for discussions also expected to focus on North Korea.
In the wake of the North's Jan. 6 nuclear test, the U.S. has stepped up calls for China to do more to rein in its communist neighbor, saying there should not be "business as usual" with the North.
But China's reactions to such calls have been lukewarm.
China is North Korea's top trading partner and supplies almost all of the isolated nation's energy needs, but many analysts believe that China's Communist Party leadership won't exert enough leverage on North Korea because a sudden collapse of the North's regime could threaten China's own security interests.
Cooperation from China is key to the U.N. Security Council's push to adopt a new sanctions resolution aimed at punishing Pyongyang because the country is one of the veto-holding permanent members of the Security Council, along with Britain, France, Russia and the U.S.
Analysts say China is expected to back only a limited version of new U.N. sanctions against North Korea's latest nuclear test because Beijing fears pushing Pyongyang too hard could lead to its collapse, instability on its border and ultimately the emergence of a pro-U.S. nation next door.