Bound by threats from North Korea, the U.S. and China agreed Saturday to rid the bellicose nation of nuclear weapons in a test of whether the world powers can shelve years of rivalry and discord, and unite in fostering global stability.
Beyond this latest attempt to restrain North Korea, the burgeoning nuclear crisis has so frustrated the U.S. and China that they are forming a new and tentative bond with the potential to carry over into areas that have vexed them for decades.
But they will need to overcome the longstanding prickly relations between Beijing’s communist government and Washington’s free-market democracy. The two are economic competitors, and China is far more reluctant than the U.S. to intervene in international military conflicts.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday described a “synergy” between the two countries to achieve worldwide security and economic stability.
“We have a stake in China’s success. And frankly, China has a stake in the success of the United States,” Kerry told reporters in the Chinese capital. “And that became clear in all of our conversations here today. A constructive partnership that is based on mutual interest benefits everybody in the world.”
Kerry met with the new Chinese leaders to discuss a range of issues, most notably the persistent and increasingly pitched threats that North Korea has issued against the U.S., South Korea and Japan the over the past several months.
North Korea appears to be readying a missile test, in what the U.S. says would be its third since December, and there are varying opinions in Washington as to whether the North is able to develop and launch nuclear-tipped missiles.
One U.S. intelligence assessment suggested North Korea had the capacity to put a nuclear warhead on a missile, even if any such weapon would have low reliability.
Kerry and the Chinese foreign policy chief, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, said the two nations would work together to create a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, effectively forcing North Korea to give up its arsenal.
The reclusive North Korean government and its young leader, Kim Jong Un, are more likely to listen to China, its main economic and diplomatic partner and lifeline to the outside world, than anyone else.
Yang, through an interpreter, described China’s stance on North Korea as “clear cut” and called for resuming the six-nation talks that fell apart four years ago and are aimed at ending the nuclear threat.
“China is firmly committed to upholding peace and stability and advancing the denuclearization process on the Korean peninsula,” Yang told reporters. “We maintain that the issue should be handled and resolved peacefully through dialogue. ... To properly address the Korean nuclear issue serves the interests of all parties.”