BEIJING — China and the United States will maintain “very close contact” concerning developments in North Korea following the death of leader Kim Jong Il, a top U.S. diplomat said Wednesday.
Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell is the highest level U.S. official to visit the region since Kim’s death last month raised new concerns about poor, nuclear-equipped North Korea’s stability and U.S.-North Korean talks that were disrupted just as they were making headway. His comments followed four hours of talks with Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai and other senior Chinese officials and scholars on issues including a possible resumption of talks on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament and deliveries of U.S. food aid to the hunger-stricken nation. “I think the United States and China share a strong determination to maintain peace and stability,” Campbell told reporters at Beijing’s airport ahead of a flight to South Korea. “I think we both underscored how important it will be over the course of the coming months to maintain very close contact between Washington and Beijing, and I indicated that we would be closely monitoring the situation there and that we urged all parties to cautiously deal with the situation and to refrain from any provocations,” he said.
China is North Korea’s most important diplomatic ally and provides important economic assistance to the country. It has frequently been called on by the U.S. and others to use its influence to moderate North Korean behavior. Following Kim’s death, and with a leadership transition to his son Kim Jong Un under way, senior Chinese officials have urged Washington not to take any actions that might provoke or destabilize Pyongyang. In the past two years, tensions spiraled in the region as North Korea conducted a nuclear test and shelled a South Korean island, among other provocations. With tensions easing slightly, Washington and Pyongyang have held quiet negotiations and were nearing an agreement to resume U.S. food aid when Kim died on Dec. 17.