China said Monday that it was “not aware that a nuclear program was progressing in North Korea” when the country recently admitted to developing enriched uranium, an official attending the Asean Summit said.
Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji also said that “China would support the joint declaration between South and North Korea for a nuclear-free Korea” and support the peaceful reunification of the two countries.
China is one of only a handful of countries to enjoy normal relations with North Korea, and the most powerful.
Asean Summit host Cambodia also enjoys normal relations with North Korea, one of the world’s most insular and authoritarian regimes.
The senior official with Japan’s foreign ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said North Korea’s nuclear capacity was discussed for 15 minutes at the beginning of Monday morning’s meeting between the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea on the summit sidelines.
The meeting did not result in any formal declaration or policy decision, but the countries generally pledged to work to defuse tensions, the official said.
The US revealed three weeks ago that North Korea had admitted to developing enriched uranium. North Korea had agreed in 1994 to shut down its weapons program in return for help in building nuclear reactors.
Asian diplomats worry that the nuclear buildup might prompt an East Asian nuclear arms race.
At the sideline meeting, Japan Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called on China and South Korea to take “a constructive role on pressurizing [sic] North Korea” to halt its nuclear program, the official said.
North Korea was also discussed at Monday’s Asean Plus Three Summit, the official said. Koizumi “encouraged North Korea to constructively engage itself with the international community” during that meeting.
China did not speak on North Korea during the Asean Plus Three Summit, the official said. But “two or three other” countries made remarks that were “more or less than the same” as Japan’s, urging North Korea to “observe international commitments.”
“We hope this provides further momentum toward peaceful settlement of the issue,” the official said.