May 8 (UPI) -- China repudiated a Japanese press report claiming Beijing government officials requested the dismissal of the head of the U.S. Pacific Command in return for increased cooperation on North Korea.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters at a regular press briefing no such exchange took place, and that the reports are not worth refuting, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported Monday.
"While it is not clear whether the [Kyodo news] report originated from a source who actually believed personnel issues were discussed, wanted to sell fake news or had a secret ulterior motive, we can confirm the report is not true," Geng said.
On Saturday, Kyodo quoted a source "close to U.S.-China ties" that claimed the Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai conveyed a government request to the Trump administration requesting Adm. Harry Harris be fired from his post.
Harris is critical of Chinese buildup in the South China Sea and supports the deployment of THAAD in South Korea. Both positions would have likely irritated Beijing officials who remain strongly opposed to the U.S. missile defense system.
U.S. Defense Department spokesman Jamie Davis also denied the report, according to Chinese state tabloid Global Times on Monday.
Gao Hong, an expert on Japan at the Institute for Japanese Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the Japanese press report "weakens the credibility of the Japanese media."
Gao said the press report based on rumors reflects the Japanese government's anxiety regarding strengthened cooperation between China and the United States.