China Hints at `Positive Role'

AMID some optimism that China will not block United Nations action against North Korea, Beijing reiterated its opposition to sanctions yesterday but also pledged to play a positive role.

During Japanese Foreign Minister Koji Kakizawa's visit to Beijing, his Chinese counterpart, Qian Qichen, warned that Japan and its allies should not use ``violence'' in resolving the nuclear issue, but hinted that China may abandon its hard-line position of inaction.

``China will participate positively in the discussions within the framework of the UN and is ready to play its own positive role,'' a Japanese spokesman said following the meeting. The possibility of a Chinese abstention in a UN Security Council vote was not raised at the meeting, the spokesman said.

The United States and other Western countries were heartened Friday by China's abstention in a vote ending technical assistance by the International Atomic Energy Agency to North Korea's nuclear program. ``This may be a Chinese signal as to how they will react if a sanction motion comes to a vote in the Security Council,'' says a Western diplomat.

Beijing remains Pyongyang's major supplier of oil and other energy resources, but claims its influence with Pyongyang is limited. Asian and Western diplomats say China's frustration with Pyongyang's intransigence is increasing and that Beijing is concerned it could face international isolation in its support for Pyongyang at a time that Beijing needs foreign investment for its own economic growth.

By abstaining in a vote, Beijing could maintain ties to its Communist ally and at the same time avoid a rift with Asian neighbors who are important to China's economic reforms and who feel stronger measures should be taken against North Korea.

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