North Korean security fears must be tackled, says China
By Andrew Ward in Seoul
Published: July 8 2003 5:00 | Last Updated: July 8 2003 5:00

Hu Jintao, China's president, said yesterday that North Korea's security concerns must be addressed as part of efforts to resolve the crisis surrounding Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme.

The comments appeared to signal Chinese support for North Korea's demand that the US sign a non-aggression pact in return for Pyongyang abandoning its nuclear ambitions.

Mr Hu said China was opposed to nuclear weapons on the neighbouring Korean peninsula and promised to back diplomatic efforts to stop the communist North developing bombs. "But we also think it is important to address North Korea's security concerns," he said.

North Korea has argued that it has been forced to develop nuclear weapons to defend against possible attack by the US, which last year said the state formed part of an "axis of evil".

Mr Hu's remarks followed his first meeting with Roh Moo-hyun, South Korea's president, since the two men took their respective offices earlier this year. The pair called for more international talks to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula but there were no firm proposals for how the diplomatic impasse could be broken.

"President Hu Jintao and I agreed to make efforts for the early resumption of direct talks among concerned parties in the North Korean nuclear issue," said Mr Roh, following the summit in Beijing.

A first round of talks between the US, North Korea and China ended in acrimony in April after North Korean officials reportedly used the meeting to admit for the first time that the country possessed nuclear weapons. Washington is pushing to involve South Korea and Japan in a second round of multi-lateral dialogue but Pyongyang wants to talk directly to the US.

China is crucial to diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis because it has more influence over Pyongyang than any other country. Beijing is believed to provide at least 70 per cent of North Korea's oil and more than a third of its food aid.

Diplomats in east Asia say Mr Hu's administration is less sympathetic to North Korea than previous Chinese leaderships and the US has declared itself happy with the pressure Beijing is applying on Pyongyang. But Mr Hu's comments suggested that Beijing would not completely abandon its former cold war ally.