The United States and China have agreed that sanctions against North Korea will be lifted only after Pyongyang achieves complete denuclearization, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday, although his Chinese counterpart kept mum about the issue.
“We have made very clear the sanctions and economic relief that North Korea would receive would only happen after the full denuclearization,” Pompeo said at a joint press conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing.
But Wang, who met Pompeo two days after the historic U.S.-North Korea summit on Tuesday in Singapore, did not clearly mention China’s position on the sanctions, saying only, “We would work out through more detailed and specific consultations.”
Their remarks underscored that Washington and Beijing remain at odds over when and how to ease or lift the sanctions against Pyongyang, which had developed and tested ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons in defiance of international warnings.
The United States has called on North Korea to take concrete action to abandon all its nuclear weapons, saying tough sanctions imposed on the country will only be lifted when it attains “complete denuclearization.”
China, North Korea’s main economic lifeline, has repeatedly said sanctions “are not an end in themselves,” indicating that it believes they should be eased, depending on the progress of nuclear disarmament.
In a joint statement, signed Tuesday by U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Pyongyang committed to “complete denuclearization” and Washington pledged to provide it with security guarantees.
The document, however, did not specify the timing and conditions to ease the international sanctions including Beijing’s strict trade restrictions against Pyongyang, which are believed to have dealt a crucial blow to North Korea’s economy.
North Korea’s state media reported Wednesday that Trump and Kim affirmed “step-by-step and simultaneous action” toward nuclear disarmament, a phrase taken as suggesting Pyongyang would win concessions for every step it implements in the process.
Pompeo and Wang, meanwhile, reached an agreement that their two countries will work together to realize denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.
Calling the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit “successful” and “historic,” Wang, who doubles as state councilor, said, “All the parties including China, the DPRK and the United States all agree that goal.”
DPRK is the acronym of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Relations between China and North Korea have improved markedly since Kim visited Beijing in March, on his first foreign trip since becoming the supreme leader in the wake of the death of his father Kim Jong Il in 2011, and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The two leaders met again for two days in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian in early May, just about a month before the Washington-Pyongyang summit.
With speculation growing that North Korea made some deals with China ahead of negotiations with the United States, Trump had expressed frustration over Kim’s approach to Xi, saying he detected a shift in Pyongyang’s tone following their May 7-8 summit in China.
As for recent Sino-U.S. trade tensions, Pompeo urged China to make efforts to reduce what he called its “too high” surplus, emphasizing that bilateral trade should become “more balanced, more reciprocal and more fair.”
Wang said, “We have two options. One is cooperation and win-win outcome and the second is confrontation and lose-lose scenario. China opts for the first one.”
“We hope the United States will make a wise choice,” he added.
After meeting with Wang, Pompeo met with Xi.
Earlier in the day, the U.S. secretary of state held talks in Seoul with South Korean President Moon Jae In and with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts.