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(2nd LD) China pressing to revive N. Korea nuclear talks

All Headlines 19:00 February 20, 2014

(ATTN: ADDS fresh quotes in paras 15-17)

BEIJING, Feb. 20 (Yonhap) -- China said Thursday it has been working hard to restart long-stalled six-nation negotiations on North Korea's nuclear program, with one of its senior diplomats set to visit South Korea this week immediately after leaving the North.

The back-to-back trip by China's Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin to the two Koreas is highly unusual and believed to be part of U.S.-involved diplomacy to revive the six-party talks. Wrapping up a four-day visit to Pyongyang on Thursday, Liu will arrive in Seoul later in the day.

"China is committed to peace and stability, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters, when asked about Liu's visit to the two Koreas.

"We will continue to make positive efforts in our own way to press ahead with the resumption of the six-party talks," Hua said, without giving further details.

During the three-day visit to South Korea, Hua said Liu "will meet with his ROK (South Korea) counterparts as well as officials from other relevant departments. The two sides will exchange views on bilateral relations as well as other issues of common interest."

Liu's trip to North Korea came days after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Beijing that he discussed with Chinese leaders specific ideas to revive the six-party forum that has been dormant since late 2008.

Late last week, Kerry met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. He later told reporters, "Now what we are talking about is sort of the specifics of how you do that. They put some ideas on the table and we put some ideas on the table."

Immediately thereafter, Liu flew to North Korea where he is believed to have discussed with Pyongyang officials specific ideas broached and shared by Kerry and Chinese leaders.

Liu's trip to South Korea is expected to be closely watched for any message he may bring from North Korea regarding its nuclear issue or inter-Korean relations.

South Korea and the U.S. maintain that the six-party forum should reopen only when North Korea shows its readiness to disarm through action. China, along with North Korea, insists on no conditions being attached.

In North Korea, Liu met with Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun and the country's top nuclear envoy Ri Yong-ho, the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement released late Wednesday.

Liu was the most senior Chinese official to visit North Korea since the high-profile purge and execution of leader Kim Jong-un's uncle about two months ago, which stoked concern about instability in the isolated country.

In the Chinese statement posted on its foreign ministry's website, China said Liu has told North Korean officials that it will "never allow war or chaos" on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea, for its part, reaffirmed its willingness to denuclearize, saying that the goal is a "dying wish" of its late leader, Kim Jong-il, the father of current leader Kim Jong-un, it said.

Asked about the implications of the remarks by Liu in Pyongyang, Hua replied, "There should not be war or chaos on the Korean Peninsula because war and chaos do not serve the interests of the two parties of the Korean Peninsula and the interests of the Chinese side."

"We have maintained close communications with both parties of the Korean Peninsula with the purpose of promoting peace talks between the two sides," Hua said.

"Then, relevant parties can talk about how to realize long-lasting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula within the framework of the six-party talks."

Also on Thursday, about 80 elderly South Koreans traveled to a North Korean mountain resort for reunions of their families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

This round of six-day reunions, the first since 2010, comes amid a charm offensive by North Korea, despite upcoming joint military drills between South Korea and the U.S.

Hua said China is "pleased to see that the two sides are holding the reunions as scheduled."

"We believe that this is an important step forward being taken by the two sides with national interests and regional peace and stability in mind," Hua said.

"We sincerely hope that the DPRK (North Korea) and the ROK can seize the opportunity, redouble their efforts and sustain the momentum of dialogue, while making concrete efforts for the improvement of bilateral relations and relaxation of the regional situation."

kdh@yna.co.kr
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