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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 
possible."

   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 
said.

   "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 
Chinese border.

   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 
northeastern China.

   "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.


(KA)

 
 
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