BEIJING (AP) — China's Foreign Ministry will hold a strategic dialogue with North Korea this week following Pyongyang's surprise offer of new talks with the U.S., a ministry spokeswoman said Monday.
Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui will meet North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan on Wednesday in Beijing, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a regularly scheduled briefing. Hua said the two will discuss bilateral relations and the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
"China has been paying close attention to developments on the peninsula, and has been actively working toward the early resumption of dialogue and negotiation by all sides," Hua said, referring to long-stalled six-nation nuclear disarmament talks hosted by China that include South Korea, Japan, Russia, the U.S. and North Korea.
North Korea surprised many on Sunday by proposing "senior-level" talks with the U.S. to ease tensions and negotiate a formal peace treaty ending the Korean War, which concluded only with an armistice.
The Obama administration said Sunday it is open to dialogue, but wants "credible negotiations" that involve North Korean compliance with U.N. resolutions and would lead to a nuclear-free North.
The proposal is expected to be discussed in meetings this week in Washington involving U.S., Japanese and South Korean officials.
Tensions spiked this year over a long-range rocket launch and nuclear test by North Korea which angered China, the North's most important ally and its biggest source of trade and aid.
Beijing's pique apparently prompted a visit last month to Beijing by a top North Korean envoy who stated that Pyongyang is willing to take steps to return to talks.
The envoy, Vice Marshal Choe Ryong Hae, was quoted as saying Pyongyang is "willing to take active measures in this regard," although it wasn't clear whether it had committed to any timeframe.
China has backed United Nations sanctions against the North, but would be unwilling to come down more harshly on its ally, Zhang Yunling, director of international studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told a forum in Beijing on Monday.
However, Pyongyang's continuing refusal to rejoin denuclearization talks and spurning of China's calls for it to undertake economic reforms would "definitely affect our bilateral relations," Zhang said.
Associated Press writer Louise Watt contributed to this report.