A Chinese envoy has met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il ahead of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to China. The secretary hopes to persuade Beijing to fully implement U.N. sanctions against the North in response to its nuclear test this month.
Chinese officials called the visit to North Korea by their envoy, Tang Jiaxuan, a "very significant" one. They say he met with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang Thursday and delivered a message from Chinese President Hu Jintao, but they gave no details of what that message contained.
China was outraged when Pyongyang went ahead with a nuclear test on October 9, despite Beijing's warnings against it. Beijing supported a United Nations resolution condemning North Korea and barring shipments of luxury goods and some weapons material to the country.
Regional experts, however, say Beijing is hesitant about sanctions that call for the inspection of cargo - particularly sea cargo - going in and out of North Korea.
The experts say Beijing fears tough implementation of the sanctions might trigger a collapse of the Pyongyang government and send a wave of refugees into Chinese territory.
The United States says the resolution gives nations not only a right but also an obligation to carry out the searches. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao on Thursday indicated his government has a different interpretation.
"We believe resolution 1718 is a balanced one," he said. "All sides need to consider how to implement resolution 1718 in a balanced way and not devise ways to willfully expand the sanctions."
Liu's remarks suggest U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice faces a tough challenge when she meets with Chinese officials on Friday. She is expected to urge them to commit to implement the sanctions thoroughly.
Rice is to meet with Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, and later with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.
She arrived in Seoul Thursday for meetings with South Korean officials and met with Japan's leaders on Wednesday.