TOKYO, March 18 -- Talks on how to defuse North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons program are expected to dominate meetings during Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa's state visit to China this weekend.
Hosokawa, who is scheduled to leave on the three-day trip Saturday, plans to ask Beijing to use its cordial relations with North Korea to help win U.N. inspectors full access to the communist country's nuclear facilities, government officials said.
North Korea refused to let inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conduct tests at a laboratory suspected of being used to extract plutonium, a key component of nuclear weapons, during an IAEA mission that ended Tuesday.
The agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, said with the limited access it was 'not in a position to verify that there had been no diversion of nuclear material at the facility' toward use in weapons.
The announcement cast serious doubt on the possibility of high-level talks between the United States and North Korea over the issue next week. North Korea's full cooperation in the inspections was a U.S. condition for the talks, along with an exchange of envoys with its South Korean rival.
The IAEA board of governors will discuss the issue Monday and could call for the matter to be elevated to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions against North Korea.
Hosokawa's chief Cabinet secretary Masayoshi Takemura told reporters Thursday Japan was 'deeply concerned' over the North Korean issue and said the matter would be high on the prime minister's agenda.
Beijing announced last week it would increase defense spending by 22. 4 percent this year. In October it resumed tests on nuclear explosives.
The moves have heightened concern in Japan and other Asian countries that China could use its military to further its claims to several disputed island groups in the Pacific.
Japan has indicated it intends to use its massive economic aid as an incentive to limit China's military expansion. Japan has pledged $810 billion in aid and soft loans to China over a five-year period ending in early 1996.
Earlier this week, government officials said Hosokawa would tell China that Japanese aid would hinge on a guarantee it would not be used for military purposes, and that Tokyo would take issues such as arms exports into account when assessing aid levels.
Hosokawa is also expected to apologize to China for atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II, although it is unlikely he will offer any reparations.
Thousands of people have been flocking from Chinese provinces to Beijing in recent days to protest Japanese war crimes and demand financial reparations from Tokyo during Hosokawa's visit.
Hosokawa also is expected to encourage China to continue its move toward a market economy and voice support for its bid to become a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
While he has pledged to press China to improve its human rights record, Hosokawa is likely to take a much softer approach than did U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher during his visit to Beijing.
Christopher harshly criticized China on its human rights last week and reiterated threats by Washington not to renew Beijing's favorable trade status unless the situation improved.
Government officials in Japan said Hosokawa plans to merely suggest China address the issue in an 'internationally understandable way.'