Chinese diplomats are visiting North and South Korea in a rare back-to-back trip to the two countries and say North Korea is ready to improve relations with China and perhaps resume six-nation talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.
China's Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin concluded a four-day trip to Pyongyang Friday and now heads to South Korea. China's Foreign Ministry said North Korea is ready and willing to improve relations with its chief ally, China.
Spokesperson Hua Chunying said Pyongyang is ready to enhance communications with Beijing and that developing strong relations with China is a steadfast position held by the North Korean government.
Liu Zhenmin's visit to North Korea comes just after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to Beijing, where he discussed North Korea with Chinese leaders. During that trip, Kerry said China was prepared to take additional steps and increase pressure on the North Korean government to denuclearize.
South Korea and the United States say the six-party talks should resume only after North Korea takes action towards nuclear disarmament. China and North Korea believe the talks should resume without preconditions.
In describing their meetings with Kerry, Professor Xiaohe Cheng of China's Renmin University said Chinese leaders vowed that future six-party talks will be substantive.
"The six-party talks should be an effective tool to produce results," he said.
North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests and reactivated a nuclear reactor that can produce plutonium. Experts say that within two years North Korea could have enough plutonium for two additional bombs.
China's meetings in North and South Korea come days after a United Nations report detailed widespread and systematic human rights abuses in North Korea, including murder, torture, rape and persecution. China's Foreign Ministry called the UN report unreasonable criticism.
Earlier this week, North Korea arrested an Australian Christian missionary who lived, and operated a Christian bookstore, in Hong Kong. An American missionary remains in captivity in North Korea after authorities there arrested him more than a year ago.