Rice in China to Discuss North Korean Nuclear Issue

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has arrived in Beijing, saying she plans to ask Chinese leaders how to re-start the six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. The United States and China both want Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions, but some politicians and analysts say China does not view the issue with the same urgency as Washington.

Secretary of State Rice arrival in Beijing marks the start of a six-day Asian tour. On Sunday, Ms. Rice is expected to meet with China's top leaders to discuss how to persuade North Korea to return to negotiations on its nuclear weapons programs.

Ms. Rice has said she will also discuss the human rights situation in China, Tibet and the status of the Dalai Lama.

China is the Number-One supplier of energy and food to North Korea, and the closest friend the isolated nation has. There have been suggestions in Washington that the Chinese are not doing all they could to persuade Pyongyang to return to the talks, which it has boycotted for more than a year.

Speaking to reporters en route to Beijing, Ms. Rice declined to criticize the Chinese, saying only that Washington wanted Beijing to do as much as it could, and that she was going to ask the Chinese "how to get the talks resumed."

Whether she will receive a satisfactory answer is an open question. Shi Yinhong is a professor of international relations at the People's University in Beijing. He says it is not in China's strategic interest to put too much pressure on a government presiding over a shaky economy.

"China not only wants to have a nuclear-free North Korea, but also wants to prevent any possible situation of collapse of the regime there under economic difficulties," said Shi Yinhong.

Experts say China is concerned that a collapse of the North Korean regime would lead to a flood of refugees across the Chinese border.

Whether or not Beijing is putting pressure on Pyongyang, China's President, Hu Jintao, has decided to send a special envoy to Pyongyang immediately following Ms. Rice's visit.

Tang Jiaxuan, former foreign minister and currently a state councilor in charge of foreign affairs, is scheduled to visit North Korea from July 12 - 14.

Another key party to the stalled negotiations, South Korea, is also concerned about preventing a collapse of North Korea's government. Earlier Saturday, a delegation from Pyongyang arrived in Seoul to discus trade, and to ask for new donations of food to shore up an economy devastated by mismanagement.

Although the nuclear issue was not on the agenda for this meeting, the South Koreans have taken every opportunity to raise the issue with the Northerners.

China has hosted three inconclusive rounds of the six-nation talks, which also include Japan and Russia.

After China, Ms. Rice is scheduled to visit Thailand to assess tsunami reconstruction efforts there, and then go on to Japan and South Korea.