The United States and China Wednesday called on North Korea to stop provocations and abide by its denuclearization pledge.
Speaking at a joint press conference at the White House with Chinese President Hu Jintao, U.S. President Barack Obama said, "I told President Hu that we appreciated China's role in reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. And we agreed that North Korea must avoid further provocations. We agreed that the paramount goal must be complete denuclearization of the peninsula."
Obama made his remarks after an intensive dialogue with Hu in the morning, following an official arrival ceremony that included a 21-gun salute on the White House South Lawn.
The dialogue extensively touched upon North Korea, Iran's nuclear ambitions, the Chinese currency yuan's revaluation, human rights and climate change, the leaders said.
Hu later attended a luncheon at the State Department hosted by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary Hillary Clinton, and visited a new Chinese embassy complex before attending a state dinner at the White House. On Thursday, Hu will visit congressional leaders on Capitol Hill and give a speech at a luncheon meeting with business leaders before leaving for Chicago later in the day.
"North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile program is increasingly a direct threat to the security of the United States and our allies," Obama said.
Obama was apparently referring to remarks by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said last week that North Korea's missiles and nuclear weapons will pose a threat to the U.S. within five years and urged the North to impose a moratorium on nuclear and missile testing to help revive the six-party nuclear talks.
The six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear dismantlement have been deadlocked for more than two years over the North's nuclear and missile tests and the shelling of a South Korean front-line island and the torpedoing of a South Korean warship last year that killed 50 people, including two civilians.
The six-party deal, signed in 2005 by the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, calls for the North's nuclear dismantlement in return for massive economic aid and diplomatic and political benefits.
Hu, for his part, said that he and the U.S. president had agree to strengthen cooperation for North Korea's denuclearization.
"President Obama and I exchanged views on major international and regional issues, including the situation on the Korean Peninsula, the Iranian nuclear issue, climate change and others," Hu said. "China and the United States will enhance coordination and cooperation and work with the relevant parties to maintain peace and stability on the peninsula, promote denuclearization of the peninsula, and achieve lasting peace and security in Northeast Asia."
Obama singled out North Korea's uranium enrichment program.
"The international community must continue to state clearly that North Korea's uranium enrichment program is in violation of North Korea's commitments and international obligations," he said.
North Korea revealed in November a uranium enrichment plant that could serve as a second way of building nuclear bombs in addition to its existing plutonium program. Pyongyang insists the facility is producing fuel for power generation.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has called for the U.N. Security Council to discuss the North's uranium program, although China is reluctant to acknowledge the existence of such a program citing a lack of first-hand information.
In a joint statement, Obama and Hu "expressed concern" over North Korea's "claimed uranium enrichment program."
"Both sides oppose all activities inconsistent with the 2005 Joint Statement and relevant international obligations and commitments," it said. "The two sides called for the necessary steps that would allow for early resumption of the six-party talks process to address this and other relevant issues."
The statement also "emphasized the importance of an improvement in North-South relations and agreed that sincere and constructive inter-Korean dialogue is an essential step."
Beijing, a veto power in the U.N. Security Council, has greatly diluted a council statement on the Cheonan's sinking -- blamed on North Korea by an international investigation team, and has not yet denounced Pyongyang for the sinking and the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong.
Seoul and Washington insist that Pyongyang apologize for the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the sinking of the Cheonan before any resumption of bilateral or multilateral talks.
In an interview Sunday, Hu called for an early resumption of the six-party talks.
North Korea is under U.N. sanctions imposed after its nuclear and missile tests in 2009.
Despite international pressure to rein in North Korea, China has been reluctant to sanction the country as any instability could result in a massive influx of North Korean refugees across their shared border or a unified Korean Peninsula under the control of South Korea, supported by the U.S.
Clinton last week called on China to do more to restrain North Korea, heavily dependent on its communist neighbor for energy, food and other necessities, but backed away Tuesday when she said North Korea is "a particularly sensitive issue because North Korea is China's neighbor."
Pyongyang in recent weeks has proposed unconditional inter-Korean dialogue. Seoul and Washington dismissed the North's proposals as traditional brinkmanship and insisted that the North's rapprochement with South Korea should precede any resumption of bilateral or multilateral talks.
Appearing Wednesday on NBC's "Today," Clinton called for closer cooperation between the U.S. and China in North Korea.
"We want to see more cooperation dealing with the very thorny problem of North Korea, its nuclear ambitions, its provocative behavior that is destabilizing Northeast Asia," she said.
Obama also pressed Hu for the yuan's revaluation.
"The Chinese government has intervened very forcefully in the currency markets," he said. "They've spent $200 billion just recently, and that's an indication of the degree to which it's still undervalued. President Hu has indicated he's committed to moving towards a market-based system. And there has been movement, but it's not as fast as we want."
The U.S. blames the undervalued Chinese currency for the burgeoning trade deficit and job cuts in the U.S., while China says any sharp appreciation of the yuan will jeopardize its fledgling economy and subsequently undermine the global economy, struggling in the worst recession in decades.
The yuan's value has risen more than 3 percent since June, when China scrapped its peg against the U.S. dollar for more flexibility, to reach the 17-year-high of 6.5819 against the U.S. dollar Wednesday. Some U.S. economists say the yuan is undervalued by up to 40 percent.
"There needs to be further adjustment in the exchange rate," Obama said. "This can be a powerful tool for China, boosting domestic demand and lessening the inflationary pressures in their economy."
Obama, meanwhile, announced dozens of deals with China worth US$45 billion, including the Chinese purchase of $19 billion in Boeing Co. aircraft, which he said could create 235,000 jobs in the U.S.
Hu did not respond to the currency issue during the press conference.
Turning to the sensitive issue of human rights, Obama said that the sides had agreed to "move ahead with our formal dialogue on human rights."
"I reaffirmed America's fundamental commitment to the universal rights of all people, and that includes basic human rights like freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association and demonstration and of religion, rights that are recognized in the Chinese constitution," Obama said.
Hu rebuffed the human rights offensive.
"China recognizes and also respects the universality of human rights," Hu said. "At the same time, we do believe that we also need to take into account the different national circumstances when it comes to the universal value of human rights. China is a developing country with a huge population, and also a developing country in a crucial stage of reform." (Yonhap)