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China-NK policy

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, March 14 (Yonhap) -- Expectations of a significant change in China's approach toward North Korea are growing among U.S. officials and experts, especially with the election of Beijing's new president, Xi Jinping.

U.S. President Barack Obama openly said China is "recalculating" its policy on the troublesome communist neighbor.

"You're starting to see them recalculate and say, 'You know what? this is starting to get out of hand," Obama said in an interview with ABC News earlier this week.

"And, so, we may slowly be in a position where we're able to force a recalculation on the part of North Koreans," he added without elaborating.

Obama's comments came amid persistent criticism of his North Korea strategy featuring the so-called "strategic patience."

Some analysts say the U.S. has "run out of ideas" about how to denuclearize North Korea and the only option is to let China rein in its ally.

China, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, gave consent to new international sanctions on North Korea after that country's long-range rocket launch in December and a nuclear test last month.

Chinese officials seem to be rethinking the value of their historical alliance with North Korea, according to experts.

In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post Thursday, Fareed Zakaria quoted a senior Obama administration official as saying, "We are clearly hearing increasing levels of frustration and concern" from China about North Korea.

Zakaria, known for his expertise on international affairs, also noted that in a recent key government meeting, a top Communist Party official, Qiu Yuanping, publicly questioned whether to "keep" or "dump" North Korea.

Zakaria pointed out it's still premature to conclude that Beijing is actually going to change its policy on Pyongyang, saying talk is easier than action.

In drafting the two latest resolutions against Pyongyang, Beijing remained opposed to the inclusion of any possibility of using military force and to pushing Pyongyang too hard.

It's no secret that China is concerned about a collapse of its neighbor, which would lead to an exodus of refugees.

Kevin Rudd, former Australian prime minister and foreign minister, agreed with a view that China is increasingly taking its international role into account.

He said he would regard the move not as a "break" with China's past on North Korea but as "continued movement along a continuum."

"At one end China backing North Korea, my country right or wrong approach; at the other end of the spectrum, China joining the mainstream of international public opinion in trying to rein the North Koreans in," he said in a media call arranged by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

"I think it's fair to say over the last several years the Chinese have been moving along that continuum but increasingly in the direction of greater acceptance of their role of global political and security responsibility," Rudd said.

Under the leadership of Xi, who was formally elected China's president earlier this week, there is a more positive sign. he said.

"This will, of course, lead to considerable angst in Pyongyang," he added.

David Ignatius, another Washington Post columnist, said the new Chinese leadership may be also stepping up efforts to revive the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program.

Wang Yi, reportedly set to become Beijing's new foreign minister, is believed to favor more emphatic negotiations with Pyongyang, he said.

Involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, the six-party format was once hailed as an effective tool for denuclearization talks with North Korea. But negotiations have been stalled since 2009.

It remains uncertain whether or when the multilateral talks will get under way again as Pyongyang has been erratic in negotiations and actions.

The North has maintained a hostile stance towards the North.

"The North Koreans may be interested in moving forward with the United States and/or Japan while not addressing inter-Korean tensions," Scott Snyder, a senior researcher at the CFR said.

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