A top-ranking envoy from North Korea delivered a letter from regime leader Kim Jong Un to China’s President Xi Jinping Friday as part of efforts to clear the air between the two neighbors following months of Pyongyang’s ignoring calls from Beijing to tone down on its threats of war.
Tensions have been high on the Korean Peninsula after months of fiery rhetoric by Pyongyang directed against South Korea, Japan and the United States, including threats of an imminent nuclear conflict.
North Korean Vice Marshal Choe Ryong Hae handed the communiqué to Xi during an afternoon meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, the official Chinese Xinhua news agency reported, though it did not provide details about the letter’s contents.
During the meeting Choe told Xi that North Korea is ready accept China’s proposal that it return to the table for multiparty talks on nuclear disarmament, following a series of rocket launches and a nuclear test it carried out in recent months which drew Beijing’s ire and raised tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Xi had stressed that denuclearization and stability on the peninsula are of the utmost importance to the region and called on all parties concerned to “remain calm and with restraint, ease the situation and restart the process of the six-party talks” between the two Koreas, Russia, China, the U.S. and Japan, Xinhua said.
“China has a very clear position concerning the issue that all the parties involved should stick to the objective of denuclearization, safeguard the peace and stability on the peninsula, and resolve disputes through dialogue and consultation,” Xi said.
Xinhua said that Choe expressed “the sincere wish of [North Korea] to create a peaceful external environment to develop its economy and improve people's livelihood.”
He said that the North is ready to work with concerned parties to solve relevant issues through dialogue, including the six-party talks, and willing to adopt “active moves to safeguard peace and stability” on the peninsula.
The meeting between Xi and Choe followed nearly a half year of no high-level contacts between China and North Korea, during which Pyongyang angered Beijing by launching a long-range rocket in December and conducting a nuclear test in February—raising tensions with South Korea and the U.S.
The North had also snubbed an invitation by Beijing to high-level meetings and angered the Chinese public by detaining a Chinese fishing crew this month.
Choe’s three-day visit to Beijing comes ahead of a trip to California by Xi to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in early June and a trip to Beijing by South Korean President Park Geun-hye late next month. Choe had arrived in Beijing on Wednesday.
China is impoverished North Korea's main diplomatic and economic ally but has shown growing irritation with Pyongyang's war threats, and in March backed tough U.N. sanctions against the hardline communist neighbor for its weapons tests.
It also cut off dealings with North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank.
It is believed that China agreed to a visit by Choe only after it was decided ahead of time that the envoy would publicly state North Korea’s willingness to return to negotiations.
Earlier on Friday, Xinhua quoted top Chinese General Fan Changlong as telling Choe that the threat of nuclear war in the region had “intensified strategic conflicts among involved parties and jeopardized the peace and stability of the peninsula.
Choe responded that there was “no guarantee of peace” but that North Korea was “willing to work with all sides to search for a method of solving the problems through dialogue.”
On Thursday, Choe told the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s fifth-ranked official Liu Yunshan that the North “is willing to accept the suggestion of the Chinese side and launch dialogue with all relevant parties.”