Clinton's North Korea trip spurs hope – and unease – in Asia
Bill Clinton spoke to Kim Jong-il about detained South Koreans and missing Japanese citizens. But N. Korea's neighbors are skeptical of any move away from six-party framework for dialogue.
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He says China is also wary of being "marginalized" by any bilateral track between the US and North Korea, particularly at a time when it is being pressed to apply stricter UN sanctions to North Korea.
In an editorial, China's state-owned Global Times welcomed Clinton's visit, but cautioned that the diplomatic goal must be the revival of six-party peace talks.
"That goal can only be realized if the US and North Korea make sincere, substantial efforts," it said.
While Beijing wants North Korea back at the negotiating table, it won't squeeze its impoverished ally over its bad behavior, says Chris McNally, an expert on China at the East-West Center in Honolulu. Using economic sanctions as leverage runs contrary to Beijing's priorities during a period of uncertainty in North Korea.
"China hold several aces but doesn't want to play them because it fears the collapse of North Korea more than anything else, so will continue to send food and energy," he says.
Underscoring the high stakes in North Korea, Japan marked the anniversary Thursday of the US atomic attack on Hiroshima in 1945.
In a speech, the city's mayor praised President Obama for saying that the US had a moral duty to seek a nuclear-free world.
Abducted Japanese, detained S. Koreans
In the 1970s and 1980s, North Korea abducted at least 13 Japanese citizens, of which five were later allowed to return to Japan after a brief détente in 2002. Doubts over the fate of the others, whom Pyongyang said had died, have stirred intense public anger in Japan toward North Korea.
Takeshi Akamatsu, a spokesman for Japan's Foreign Ministry, says that Clinton had raised the issue on Japan's behalf during his meeting with Kim.
"We are thankful for the action taken by the American side. For Japan, we will strengthen our efforts to resolve the abductees issue," he says.
Clinton also asked for the return of a South Korean fishing boat and its crew that strayed into North Korean waters last week, according to reports from Seoul.