Secretary of State John Kerry flew to China on Saturday and met with that country's top leaders, seeking their help in dealing with North Korea, which has threatened attacks against South Korea and the U.S. and remains unwilling to return to nuclear talks.
After the meetings, Kerry told reporters in Beijing he urged China to take a more activist stance towards North Korea, and called his talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping "constructive and forward-leaning."
"Mr. President, this is obviously a critical time with some very challenging issues – issues on the Korean Peninsula, the challenge of Iran and nuclear weapons, Syria and the Middle East, and economies around the world that are in need of a boost," Kerry told Xi at the Great Hall of the People, according to Reuters.
Kerry, who visited China for the first time as secretary of state, said both governments called on the North "to refrain from any provocative steps and that obviously refers to any future missile shoot."
"We are able, the United States and China, to underscore our joint commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner," Kerry said, adding there will be "further discussions to bear down very quickly with great specificity on exactly how we will accomplish this goal."
China's top diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, who was with Kerry at the press conference, was quoted as saying, "We maintain that the issue should be handled and resolved peacefully through dialogue and consultation. To properly address the Korea nuclear issue serves the common interests of all parties. It is also the shared responsibility of all parties."
Kerry also told Beijing that American missile defenses in the region, which has been a concern for China, could be reduced if North Korea discontinued its nuclear program. "Obviously if the threat disappears – i.e. North Korea denuclearizes – the same imperative does not exist at that point of time for us to have that kind of robust forward leaning posture of defense," The New York Times quoted him as saying. "And it would be our hope in the long run, or better yet in short run, that we can address that."
The secretary of state said the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, and intelligence officials will visit Beijing this month. He said he wanted to ensure that the pledges made by Beijing were "not just rhetoric." "There is no question in my mind that China is very serious – very serious – about denuclearizing," BBC quoted him as saying.
Xi said Kerry is the second key member of President Barack Obama's administration to visit China within a month after Xi was elected president in March, and this shows both countries' full understanding of the importance of Sino-U.S. ties, according to China's state-owned Xinhua news agency.
Currently the Sino-US relationship is in a new era with a good start, and both sides are devoted to building a new type of relationship between powers, Xi said, adding he believes Kerry's visit will contribute to the positive momentum of the developing bilateral ties.
China is North Korea's main trading partner and financial backer, and therefore has a unique ability to use its leverage against the impoverished, isolated state, Kerry said in South Korea on Friday before leaving for Beijing.
Kerry's Asia visit, which includes a stop in Tokyo on Sunday, comes weeks after North Korean threats of war since the imposition of new U.N. sanctions in response to its third nuclear test two months ago.