China seeks to spur N Korea talks during US envoy's visit

China is urging dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea during a visit to Beijing by Washington's special representative for Pyongyang affairs

BEIJING -- China is urging dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea during a visit to Beijing by Washington's special representative for Pyongyang affairs.

Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui told reporters that despite tensions, the situation on the Korean Peninsula “had not left the track of dialogue and negotiation” and that “”opportunities and challenges" remained.

Luo's comments came shortly before the arrival of Stephen Biegun in Beijing Thursday during a swing through the region.

Biegun had offered to meet with North Korean officials during a stop in South Korea but received no public response from Pyongyang. Some in the South have speculated that a secret meeting could happen in Beijing although American diplomats have said nothing to indicate that would happen.

China, North Korea's most important diplomatic ally and biggest source of investment and financial support, has long pushed for both bilateral discussions between Washington and Pyongyang and the restarting of six-nation nuclear disarmament talks that have been stalled for a decade.

Biegun's visit comes as North Korea is ratcheting up pressure on President Donald Trump's administration to extract major concessions as it approaches an end-of-year deadline set by leader Kim Jong Un to salvage deadlocked nuclear negotiations.

On Sunday, Pyongyang said it successfully performed another “crucial test” at its long-range rocket launch site that will further strengthen its nuclear deterrent.

The test possibly involved technologies to improve intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially reach the continental United States.

In Washington, meanwhile, top Senate Democrats issued a letter to Trump expressing their growing concern that the administration's efforts to advance toward a lasting peace and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula appear to be stalled and on the brink of failure."

“While we understand that significant gaps remain between the two sides — and that North Korea has yet to take sufficient steps to meet its stated commitment to diplomacy and denuclearization — we are disturbed that almost two years after the Singapore Summit your administration has yet to develop a workable diplomatic process to structure real, serious and sustainable negotiations with North Korea," the letter said.