China renews call for North Korea, US 'freeze-for-freeze'

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Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. (Ng Han Guan, AP)
Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. (Ng Han Guan, AP)

Beijing - China on Thursday reiterated its call for an agreement between North Korea and the US under which the North would gain concessions if it freezes its nuclear weapons programme, apparently contradicting remarks a day earlier by President Donald Trump.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang Geng said China's position has not changed and the "freeze-for-freeze" initiative, under which the US and South Korea would suspend large-scale military exercises in return, remained a "first step".

"We believe that the freeze-for-freeze initiative is the most viable and reasonable plan against the current backdrop, which cannot only alleviate the current tensions, but also addresses the most urgent security concerns of all sides," Geng told reporters at a regular briefing.

Such an agreement would "create opportunities and conditions for the resumption of peace talks, and find breakthroughs to get out of this stalemate", Geng said.

The US has long dismissed the proposal, saying North Korea must unilaterally cease its programme before negotiations can begin.

Contradicting statements

On Wednesday, Trump told reporters that China had agreed with the US on that point during his 12-day trip through Asia that included a state visit to China, where he was hosted by President Xi Jinping.

"President Xi recognises that a nuclear North Korea is a grave threat to China, and we agreed that we would not accept a so-called freeze for freeze agreement, like those that have consistently failed in the past," Trump said.

Asked on Thursday about the contradicting statements, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters: "Yeah, both sides made their position clear. They're different, but we agree that they're going to be different positions and therefore it's not going to move forward."

China and Russia have proposed the agreement, also known as "dual suspension", as a way to restart long-stalled negotiations.

China, North Korea's only major ally, said on Wednesday that it would send a high-level special envoy to the North's capital, Pyongyang, amid an extended chill in relations between the neighbours.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the director of the ruling Communist Party's International Liaison Department, Song Tao, would travel to Pyongyang on Friday to report on the party's national congress held in October.

Song would be the first ministerial-level Chinese official to visit North Korea since October 2015.

Trump, who wants China to play a bigger role in pressuring North Korea to end its nuclear programme, reacted to the announcement of the visit by calling it a "big move".

"China is sending an Envoy and Delegation to North Korea - A big move, we'll see what happens!" he tweeted on Thursday. He did not elaborate.

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