N. Korea, China hold FM talks at ASEAN forum

By Kim Deok-hyun

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei, July 1 (Yonhap) -- North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks on Monday on the sidelines of a regional security forum here, a Seoul diplomat confirmed.

Pak entered the Empire Hotel for talks with Wang, without responding to a barrage of questions by reporters. China is a key provider of economic aid and diplomatic protection to North Korea, but bilateral ties appear to have been strained since the North's third nuclear test in February.

"To my understanding, ministers Pak and Wang held bilateral talks today at the Empire Hotel," the diplomat said.

South Korea and the United States have urged China to put more pressure on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program, but Beijing has been reluctant to use that leverage over concern that pushing the North too hard could hurt its national interests.

But some analysts say that China could be shifting its policy focus on Pyongyang after North Korea pressed ahead with a long-range rocket launch in December and its third nuclear test in February in defiance of Beijing's appeals.

After months of high tensions triggered by the North's third nuclear test in February and bellicose threats against South Korea and the U.S., North Korea has appeared to shift to dialogue in recent weeks.

On Sunday, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se downplayed North Korea's recent dialogue offers as a "charm offensive," insisting that any talks with the North are meaningless unless the communist country is serious about abandoning its nuclear program.

Yun made the remarks at a meeting of foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) plus South Korea, China and Japan. It was the first time that the top diplomats of South Korea, China and Japan have met since the three nations each launched new governments.

"Recently, North Korea suddenly started a charm offensive. The Republic of Korea (South Korea) has always been open to a dialogue, but it will not have dialogue for the sake of dialogue itself," Yun told the so-called ASEAN-plus-three foreign ministers' meeting, according to a copy of his remarks.

"North Korea must first demonstrate its sincerity through concrete actions by abiding by its international obligations under the U.N. Security Council Resolutions and its own commitments on denuclearization," Yun said.

The remarks by Yun cooled expectations of a possible meeting with the North Korean foreign minister Pak during the 27-member ASEAN Regional Forum.

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