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Envoys from China, South Korea meet to discuss growing North Korean nuke threat

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Envoys from China, South Korea meet to discuss growing North Korean nuke threat
Liu Xiaoming (L), China's envoy for North Korean issues, and his South Korean counterpart Noh Kyu-duk met Tuesday in Seoul to discuss Pyongyang's missile and nuclear weapons threats. Photo by Yonhap

May 3 (UPI) -- The top nuclear envoys of China and South Korea met Tuesday in Seoul to discuss how to respond to an increasingly assertive North Korea, which has conducted a flurry of missile launches this year and now appears to be preparing to test a nuclear weapon.

Liu Xiaoming, China's special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs, met counterpart Noh Kyu-duk on his first trip to South Korea since being appointed in April 2021.

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"The two sides shared their assessment of the recent severe situation on the Korean Peninsula and discussed ways to cooperate for the stable management of the situation," South Korea's foreign ministry said in a statement after Tuesday's meeting.

Noh expressed concern about Pyongyang's missile tests and the reconstruction of its nuclear test site and urged China to play a "constructive role" in bringing North Korea back to the negotiating table.

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China remains North Korea's most important ally and accounts for roughly 90% of the nation's foreign trade.

The Chinese envoy agreed that there was a "need for close cooperation among concerned countries to stabilize the situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the region," according to the South Korean ministry's statement.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, not pictured, oversees the test launch of a new type of Hwasongpho-17 intercontinental ballistic missile on March 25. Pyongyang said the missile traveled close to 700 miles and reached an altitude of 3,882 miles. File Photo by KCNA/UPI

Liu said at the start of his visit on Sunday that the responsibility for nuclear negotiations remains primarily with Washington and Pyongyang.

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"The key to resolving the peninsula issue lies in the hands of [North Korea] and the United States," he wrote on Twitter.

Last month, U.S. and South Korean special envoys agreed to push for a new U.N. Security Council resolution against North Korea over its 13 weapons tests this year, including the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile in March.

However, China and Russia -- both permanent members of the Security Council with veto power -- have shown little interest in further sanctions against North Korea.

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In addition to its missile activity, Pyongyang has been ratcheting up the threat from its nuclear weapons program.

Over the weekend, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned of "pre-emptive" use of the country's nuclear arsenal against threats from "hostile forces," according to state-run media.

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Satellite imagery has revealed that the secretive regime is repairing the Punggye-ri nuclear test facility, which it partially disabled in 2018 during a period of diplomacy with Washington.

A report last week from Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies concluded that "preparations are well underway" for a nuclear detonation at Punggye-ri.

The date of the test "will undoubtedly depend exclusively upon the personal decision of Kim Jong Un," the report said.

South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who takes office on May 10, has vowed to take a stronger stance against North Korea than outgoing President Moon Jae-in did.

U.S. President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Seoul from May 20-22 for a summit with Yoon.

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