China Tightens Border With N. Korea 05/26 05:51
BEIJING (AP) -- Chinese officials have told the U.S. that they've tightened
inspections and policing along the border with North Korea as part of U.N.
sanctions aimed at halting Pyongyang's nuclear and missile activities, the top
U.S. diplomat for East Asia said Friday.
Beijing's action reflects a growing awareness about the urgent need for
China to pressure North Korea into halting its testing of missiles and nuclear
bombs, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton told reporters in
Beijing. President Donald Trump's administration has made a renewed push to
enlist Beijing's help in those efforts following a meeting between Trump and
Chinese President Xi Jinping last month.
Touching on other areas of the relationship, Thornton said the new
administration has not changed its commitment to greater engagement with
countries in the Asia-Pacific region or its approach to naval operations in the
disputed South China Sea.
On North Korea, the U.S. has seen a "shift in emphasis" in China's approach
to its fellow communist neighbor, Thornton said.
"They've said that they have stepped up border inspections, beefed up sort
of the policing function on the border, stepped up customs inspections," she
said. Beijing has also done "a number of other things on companies" that have
dealings with North Korea, Thornton said, without giving details.
The U.S. has been talking to Beijing about taking action against specific
firms and is waiting to see what sort of action China will take, she said.
China has signed on to U.N. sanctions and suspended coal imports from North
Korea through the rest of the year, but has been generally reticent about what
other steps it may be taking to use its leverage as Pyongyang's most important
trading and diplomatic partner.
Asked about Thornton's remarks, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang
said China remained committed to "strictly implementing" U.N. sanctions but
offered no details or what other measures it might be taking.
Lu also reiterated China's call for a renewal of six-nation denuclearization
talks that have been on ice since 2009, saying the parties should "be flexible,
meet each other halfway, and return to the negotiating table as soon as
Thornton said the U.S., China and others were also in talks on a future U.N.
resolution on North Korea in order to cut the time needed to take action
following another nuclear or missile test.
"So we're looking at trying to get going on the next set of major measures
that would be taken in the wake of another provocation," Thornton said. Such
measures could include ratcheting up economic pressure on the North by
targeting trade in consumer goods, possibly including textiles, she said.
Despite Lu's comments later in the day, Thornton said Beijing officials now
realize more pressure is needed before dialogue can be restored.
"And so they know now that they don't have, I think, as much time to try to
bring the North Koreans to the table, get their calculus changed and get them
to the negotiating table as they may have previously thought," she said.
Adding to that, Beijing also seems to have recognized that North Korea's
actions were "undermining China's own security in pretty major ways," Thornton
"They do recognize that it's going to be pretty hard to have a dialogue
while the North Koreans are shooting off missiles," she said.
North Korea exploded two nuclear devices last year, one of which it claimed
was a hydrogen bomb. Satellite imagery suggests it could be ready to conduct
its next test --- its sixth --- at any time.
On Monday, Pyongyang said it is ready to start mass-producing a new
medium-range missile after a weekend test-launch confirmed its combat
readiness. The regime's oft-stated goal is to perfect a nuclear warhead that it
can put on a missile capable of hitting Washington or other U.S. cities.
Some outside the administration have been less sanguine about China's
willingness to work with the U.S. on North Korea, while Beijing officials say
their influence with Pyongyang has been exaggerated. China maintains that while
it wants to neutralize North Korea as a threat, it opposes harsh sanctions or
other measures that could bring down young leader Kim Jong Un's regime, leading
to a potential outflow of refugees and South Korean and American troops on the
China continues to pay lip service to cracking down on North Korea but
there's been "little evidence of actual pressure," said Dean Cheng of the
Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.
Cheng also criticized China for pressuring South Korea not to deploy a
sophisticated U.S. anti-missile system aimed at countering North Korea. Beijing
says the system threatens its own security with its ability to peer deep into
"In short, China has made clear that Seoul, even in the face of North Korean
missile tests, should place Chinese concerns above the security of their own
people," Cheng said.
While there have been reports that the Trump administration was
reconsidering Barack Obama's "pivot" to Asia, Thornton said Washington has made
no substantial changes.
That followed the U.S. Navy's sailing a destroyer near a Chinese man-made
island in the South China Sea on Thursday in a "freedom of navigation"
operation aimed at challenging what the U.S. considers excessive territorial
claims in the strategic waterway that Beijing claims virtually in its entirety.
Washington's approach is "engagement with Asia to show that we're still
present in the region, that we're going to keep our security commitments in the
region, certainly support for our allies and with North Korea as a focal point
on the security front," Thornton said.