Korean affairs were one of the toughest issues for U.S. and Chinese officials in drafting a joint statement for U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao on Wednesday morning.
Kurt Campbell, the U.S. assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and Cui Tiankai, the Chinese vice foreign minister, tried to fine-tune the wording of the joint statement in Washington until 2 a.m. that day, eight hours before the two presidents met.
There was such a wide gap in views that the resulting statement is now exceptionally vague.
A diplomatic source said, "This is a warning that the two countries will repeat the same argument in discussions at other forums like the UN Security Council."
◆ N.Korea's Uranium Program
The biggest bone of contention reportedly was how to refer to North Korea's uranium enrichment program. The U.S. considers it a direct threat. After fine-tuning this with South Korea, it wanted to include a phrase calling for discussion of the uranium program at the UNSC, but China resisted.
Instead the statements says China and the U.S. "expressed concern regarding [North Korea's] claimed uranium enrichment program. Both sides oppose all activities inconsistent with the 2005 Joint Statement and relevant international obligations and commitments."
Observers say Washington helped Beijing save face by including a reference to the stalled six-party talks, which China chairs. "The two sides called for the necessary steps that would allow for early resumption of the six-party talks process to address this and other relevant issues," it reads.
◆ Other Differences
The two sides "expressed concern over heightened tensions on the Peninsula triggered by recent developments," but there is no reference to the sinking of the Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island which could directly point at the North as the culprit of these mounting tensions. Instead, they are said to have been "triggered by recent developments."
China officially blames both Koreas for the mounting tensions and apparently resisted the inclusion of direct references to North Korean provocations.
The two sides "noted their continuing efforts to cooperate closely on matters concerning the Peninsula. China and the United States emphasized the importance of an improvement in North-South relations and agreed that sincere and constructive inter-Korean dialogue is an essential step."
But they were apparently so seriously at odds over other phrases that both worried the statement would end up without any teeth, and one side reportedly went so far as to suggest that they do not issue a joint statement unless they can come to some kind of consensus.