x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

China's Xi willing to help 'reconciliation' between Koreas

China is Pyongyang's sole major ally and by far its biggest trading partner, including being its primary energy supplier.

BEIJING // The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, told his South Korean counterpart yesterday that Beijing is willing to help "reconciliation" between Seoul and Pyongyang, the foreign ministry said.

"China is willing to provide the necessary assistance to advance South-North reconciliation and cooperation," Mr Xi told the president, Park Geun-hye, in a phone call, according to a statement on the ministry website.

"The South and North are compatriots, and South-North relations are important to the situation on the peninsula," the newly elevated Chinese leader said.

China is Pyongyang's sole major ally and by far its biggest trading partner, including being its primary energy supplier.

Tensions between the North and South, which have been divided since the 1950-53 Korean War, have surged since Pyongyang carried out its third nuclear test in February, following a long-range rocket launch in December.

The North threatened to unleash a second Korean war, backed by nuclear weapons, after the UN passed fresh sanctions, supported by China, in response to the test and the US and South Korea carried out joint military exercises.

North Korea said it had shredded the 60-year-old armistice that ended the Korean War and warned that the next step would be an act of "merciless" military retaliation against its enemies.

In recent days the US defence secretary has announced plans to increase by nearly half the number of interceptor missiles stationed in Alaska, following a threat by Pyongyang of a "pre-emptive" nuclear attack against its archenemy.

He also confirmed plans to increase missile defence facilities in Japan.

China has regularly expressed opposition to its neighbour's nuclear programme, while repeatedly urging calm and restraint on the Korean peninsula and promoting dialogue.

Analysts say China prioritises political stability in North Korea, fearing a potential influx of refugees, a US-led military build-up in the region or even ultimately a pro-American unified Korean peninsula.

It faces regular pressure from the US and international community to exercise more leverage over North Korea through its substantial aid and trade.

Chinese state-run media have insisted it is the US that holds the key to influencing North Korea in the form of a security guarantee.

Xi was named president last week and has been holding his first discussions with foreign counterparts, while Park was inaugurated as South Korea's first female president last month.