SEOUL, Sept. 18 (UPI) -- North Korea boycotted a China-sponsored nuclear seminar in a move that indicated Beijing's influence over Pyongyang's defense policy has waned over the years.
The seminar was attended by academics, diplomats and policymakers from the member nations of the six-party talks as well as from Australia, Thailand and Cambodia, Yonhap reported. North Korea was invited, but Pyongyang did not send a delegate to the event that marked the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 19 Joint Statement.
The 2005 statement was a pledge that reaffirmed North and South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia were committed to the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Since the signing of the agreement, however, North Korea has pursued nuclear weapons development and missile launches. North Korea violated U.N. Security Council resolutions again this week, when it announced it would resume nuclear development in Yongbyon.
North Korea did send three delegates to Beijing in 2013 for the biennial seminar, including First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan and six-party talks negotiator Ri Yong Ho, but in Pyongyang's absence on Friday, South Korean representatives met separately with Chinese and Russian counterparts to discuss solutions to North Korea's long-range missile plans and the possibility of North Korea's fourth nuclear test.
China is North Korea's most important economic partner, but its political influence over North Korea's defense choices has declined.
Voice of America reported the U.S. Pacific Command chief and the assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs said Thursday China's lack of leverage in Pyongyang was a source of concern for the United States.
While testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris said, "China's influence on North Korea is waning, or China doesn't have the influence on North Korea that it had in the past. So that is also an area of concern."
Assistant Defense Secretary David B. Shear said China's relationship with North Korea has declined since Kim Jong Un fully assumed power in 2012.
"The Chinese reiterated to me, as they have in the past, that their influence with North Korea is limited, particularly under the new regime," Shear said.
"During the recent crisis related to the North Korean provocation on Aug. 4, it wasn't clear to us that the Chinese had a lot of contact with the North Koreans or were able to significantly influence them."