BEIJING/SEOUL, Jan 12 (Reuters) - China shares “interests and goals” with the United States on Korean peninsula issues, a senior Chinese diplomat said Wednesday, as the rival Koreas engaged for the first time in weeks via a reopened border hotline.
The North, which has appealed almost daily for talks since the start of the year, again offered to come to the negotiating table by proposing discussions about reopening tourist links, severed after the shooting of a South Korean tourist in 2008.
Seoul says its impoverished neighbour is only reaching out for talks in order to win aid and financial support, and that it will only hold “real talks” about last year’s two deadly attacks against the South.
China’s Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai Wednesday repeated calls to restart six-party nuclear disarmament talks ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit to the United States from January 18 to 21.
Obama is likely to urge Hu to increase pressure on China’s ally North Korea, which triggered regional security concerns last year after the two attacks against South Korea and revelations of advances in its nuclear program.
“China and the United States share broad interests and goals on issues about the (Korean) peninsula,” Cui told a news conference in Beijing. “Both countries believe we must protect the peace and stability of the peninsula.”
Beijing sees the resumption of six-party talks, last held in 2009, as being the key to resolving the latest standoff between the two Koreas which are still technically at war after signing only a truce in 1953.
Relations between the two plummeted to their lowest level in years after the sinking of a South Korean warship and the shelling of a South Korean island last year, killing a total of 50 people.
The North denies the South’s claim it torpedoed the ship, and said it attacked the island after South Korean shells landed in its waters.
President Lee Myung-bak’s government, under pressure over its perceived weak response, has vowed to hit back hard the next time it is attacked, promising to retaliate with air power and bombs.
Washington and Beijing have urged both sides to show restraint, worried the situation could quickly spiral out of control.
Since the start of the year, the secretive North has reached out to its neighbour, substituting its war-like rhetoric from December with a series of peaceful overtures.
Seoul however views Pyongyang’s offer for talks as insincere, and says the North must first take actions that account for last year’s attacks and show sincerity about following through on its denuclearisation pledges.
North Korea has previously rejected discussions on its nuclear arms development in dialogue with South Korea, saying the activity is aimed at deterring a U.S. invasion.
Analysts say Seoul must be careful not to be cast as uncooperative by refusing to negotiate carte blanche with the North.
Wednesday, the South gave some ground by agreeing to reopen a Red Cross communications hotline at the border, closed after the sinking of the Cheonan corvette last year.
“They talked from 12:15 to 12:25, and the line is now open,” a unification ministry official in Seoul said without providing details about the conversation.
The ministry said in a statement the North had also proposed the sides meet on February 11 to discuss the resumption of cross-border tours and on February 9 to facilitate their cooperation involving a joint factory complex.
The North Wednesday redirected its rhetoric at Tokyo, with a commentary in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper criticising a planned Japan-U.S. joint military exercise later this month as being part of its preparations for an invasion.
“The Japanese militarists’ adventurous moves for re-invasion are rendering the situation in Northeast Asia tenser and increasing the danger of war as the, days go by,” it said.
Additional reporting by Danbee Moon in Seoul; Editing by Miral Fahmy