China would hold talks with North Korea tomorrow, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday, after Pyongyang offered high-level negotiations with the United States to ease tension on the Korean peninsula.
North Korea's proposed talks with Washington came days after it abruptly cancelled planned official negotiations with South Korea. The White House has said any talks must involve Pyongyang showing it is moving towards scrapping its nuclear weapons.
Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui will meet North Korea's First Vice-Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan tomorrow in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing.
"We are holding this kind of strategic dialogue is because China and North Korea always maintain close communication," Hua said. "China is also paying close attention to the situation on the Korean peninsula and is proactively working to promote each side to quickly restart dialogue and consultation."
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama had a phone conversation with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye on Sunday night.
"The two presidents discussed recent developments with respect to the Korean Peninsula, and agreed to continue close communication and co-ordination on actions to pursue the denuclearisation of North Korea," a White House statement said.
China, North Korea's one major ally, has urged Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons programme and return to talks.
Professor Cheng Xiaohe , a specialist in Asia-Pacific affairs at Renmin University's school of international studies, said the meeting would serve as a follow-up to a visit to the mainland by North Korean special envoy Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae late last month.
Cheng said the meeting between Zhang and Kim Kye-gwan, a veteran negotiator involved in the stalled six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programme, would be more like working-level talks.
He said North Korea would likely seek Chinese help in arranging a bilateral meeting with the United States.
But Cheng said North Korea must first demonstrate its sincerity with some concrete offers or promises to respond to international demands for a nuclear-free peninsula.
"It can no longer pretend that nothing has happened after the rockets it has launched and nuclear tests it has conducted," he said.
Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough, welcomed the North's offer of talks but said it must first curb its nuclear programme.
"We'll judge them by their actions, not by the nice words that we heard yesterday," McDonough told CBS News's Face the Nation.
"The bottom line is they're not going to be able to talk their way out of very significant sanctions they're under now, sanctions that Russia supported and - very importantly - that China supported."
Reuters, Agence France-Presse