US calls on China to help rein in N Korea

US President Barack Obama urged China yesterday to use its influence to rein in North Korea instead of “turning a blind eye” to its nuclear defiance, and warned of tighter sanctions if the reclusive state goes ahead with a rocket launch next month.

“North Korea will achieve nothing by threats or provocations,” a stern-faced Obama said after a tour of the heavily fortified border between the two Koreas resonant with echoes of the Cold War.

Such a launch would only lead to further isolation of impoverished North Korea, which must show sincerity if aid-for-disarmament talks are to restart, Obama told a news conference in Seoul.

Seoul and Washington say the launch will be a disguised test of a ballistic missile that violates Pyongyang’s latest international commitments. North Korea says it wants to launch a satellite.

Even as Obama warned North Korea of the consequences of its actions, he spoke bluntly to China, the closest thing Pyongyang has to an ally, of its international obligations.

Obama said Beijing’s actions of “rewarding bad behaviour [and] turning a blind eye to deliberate provocations” were obviously not working, and he promised to raise the matter at a meeting with Chinese president Hu Jintao today.

“I believe that China is very sincere that it does not want to see North Korea with a nuclear weapon,” he said. “But it is going to have to act on that interest in a sustained way.”

It was Obama’s sharpest message yet to China to use its clout with North Korea in a nuclear standoff with the West, and dovetails with recent calls for Beijing to meet its responsibilities as a rising world power.

In an election year when Republicans have accused Obama of not being strong enough with Beijing, talking tough on China is seen as a potential vote-winner after three years of troubled diplomacy with Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

China is host to the aid-for-disarmament talks, which also involve Japan and Russia.


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