But she said that the standoff should be resolved through ''dialogue'' between the United States and North Korea instead of United Nations intervention and possible sanctions, adding, ''We believe that the relevant parties should do more that may help restore dialogue at an early date.''
The remarks represented the first time China had so extensively stated its position on the nuclear standoff that began last fall when the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, said the country had restarted its nuclear weapons development program, despite the 1994 accord. But the remarks also raised questions about how much influence China truly has over Mr. Kim, and whether or how it should be exerted.
''China has been quietly playing the role of mediator for many years, but it's hard to say if its influence is big or middling,'' said Xu Wenji, head of the North-South Korea Research Institute at Jilin University in Changchun. ''I would say it's not as much as the U.S., who after all can threaten it with weapons on the one hand and offer peace and money on the other.''
China is North Korea's main trading partner and provides extensive financial aid, but it is unlikely to use this economic weapon to punish its impoverished neighbor financially.
Even though many scholars and officials here privately fault North Korea for provoking the current crisis, Chinese diplomacy hews to more low-key strategies and, more important, its officials fear provoking chaos on China's border. ''China won't cut off North Korea economically over this issue,'' Professor Xu said. ''The U.S. is far away, but this is our neighbor and any disturbance on the Korean Peninsula has a profound effect on China.''
In recent articles in the Chinese press, experts here have repeatedly expressed worry that a desperate North Korea would only accelerate its nuclear weapons program to save face, and could push nonnuclear countries like Japan and South Korea to follow suit.
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Since India and Pakistan already have such weapons, China could be surrounded by potentially nuclear-powered conflicts, a dangerous position.
''Imagining a worst-case scenario, it is not out of the realm of possibility that China may be subjected to nuclear blackmail when North Korea becomes desperate, and that may force China into an intractable strategic or policy dilemma,'' wrote Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at the People's University in Beijing, in the newspaper Ta Kong Pao.
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So even though many Chinese officials and scholars express their chagrin over the actions of their ally, few recommend punishment today. Perhaps with a better understanding of the ''face'' issues so important in Asian diplomacy, they blame the United States, too.
''Without question, the North Korean government has been the main provocateur, and is primarily responsible for the North Korean nuclear crisis, and its potentially destructive impact on East Asian security,'' Professor Shi wrote. But he added that ''some of the fundamental causes lie in the strategic tenets and trends of the Bush administration,'' particularly its ''foolish and crude'' declaration that North Korea was part of what Mr. Bush has called the Axis of Evil.
Both scholars and diplomats here expressed some skepticism about how much influence China could exert on either side, even if it wanted to. Chinese diplomats have long complained about the lukewarm reception they get from Pyongyang, where North Korean counterparts do not return phone calls or accept invitations.
What's more, North Korea has made it clear that it does not want Chinese mediation, preferring to deal with the United States directly.
In an interview with the Chinese newspaper The 21st Century Economic Herald, Shi Xiaoqin, a member of an army research group, said that China's ability to play a special role was limited and that it could not prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.
So far, the Chinese government has tried to exert a calming influence on North Korea, making its ''utmost efforts in its own way,'' the foreign ministry spokeswoman said.
But with a longstanding official policy of not interfering in other country's affairs, China is disinclined to be an aggressive power broker. Anyway, the Chinese are now trying to placate two antagonistic countries -- the United States and North Korea -- that are both critical to China's future, perhaps an impossible position.
''We have embassies and lots of contacts and therefore there are lots of opportunities,'' Professor Xu said. ''But China does not really put heavy pressure on other countries. It tries to work through persuasion.''
Source : http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/13/world/threats-responses-north-korea-china-asserts-it-has-worked-end-nuclear-crisis.html