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Acting Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton says Beijing officials told Washington they have beefed up policing on the border with North Korea. Photo: Xinhua

China aware of urgency to negotiate with North Korea, top US diplomat says

Beijing officials told Washington they have tightened border controls with North Korea, according to Susan Thornton

North Korea

China has come to the realisation that it has limited time to rein in North Korea’s nuclear programme through negotiations and is open to further sanctions against Pyongyang, a senior US State Department official said on Friday.

Speaking at a news briefing in Beijing, Acting Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton said China understood that the US viewed the North Korea situation as an urgent “time-limited problem set”.

“So they know now that they don’t have, I think, as much time to try to bring the North Koreans to the table to get their calculus changed and get them to the negotiating table,” she said. “And I think that has lent some urgency to their measures.”

Pyongyang has conducted dozens of missile tests, the most recent last Sunday, and tested two nuclear bombs since the start of 2016, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. It says the programme is necessary to counter US aggression.

North Korea on May 22 said its medium-range Pukguksong-2 missile was ready for deployment after the latest test. Photo: AFP / KCNA VIA KNS

Thornton said the United States was looking at discussing with China a new UN Security Council resolution on pre-negotiated measures to reduce delays in any response to further nuclear tests or other provocations from the North.

While China believes sanctions against North Korea “don’t work overnight”, Thornton said there were no indications that Beijing had gone cold on potentially implementing more of them against Pyongyang.

“Their calculus about how much pressure to impose on North Korea is related to their tolerance for potential instability, which is low, I would say,” she said.

Thornton said Chinese officials had told Washington they have tightened border controls with North Korea as part of UN sanctions, beefed up policing on the border and stepped up customs inspections.


China has announced a suspension of coal imports from North Korea for the rest of the year, but has been generally reticent about what other steps it’s taking to use its leverage as Pyongyang’s most important trading and diplomatic partner.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Wednesday no one had the right to bring chaos to the Korean peninsula, a day after it pushed for full implementation of UN sanctions and called for dialogue.

The North has proudly publicised its plans to develop a missile capable of striking the United States and has ignored calls to halt its weapons programmes, even from ally China.

Even as Washington seeks greater Chinese cooperation on North Korea, a US navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands, officials said on Wednesday, the first such manoeuvre since President Donald Trump took office.


It prompted an angry response from Beijing, which accused the United States of jeopardising a recent easing of tension between China and other claimants in the region, particularly the Philippines.

Thornton said Washington’s policy on the South China Sea had not changed under President Donald Trump, and that it remained supportive of the diplomatic processes under way.

US sailors receive a safety briefing on the USS Dewey, which sailed in disputed South China Sea waters near a reef claimed by Beijing on May 24. Photo: AFP

“It doesn’t mean we are going to change our military presence or our security commitments in the region,” she said. “Those need to stay and they need to be there, and that will give confidence to the diplomatic process, we think.”

She said freedom of navigation operations were not the central part of US policy in the South China Sea.


“But to the extent that we continue to do it, we don’t shy away from doing it, that’s a continuation,” she said.

Additional reporting by Associated Press