Peking to be urged to lean on N Korea

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The Independent Online
JAPAN'S Prime Minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, begins a three-day trip to China today that will adopt a very different tone from the visit last weekend by Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, who threatened economic retaliation if Peking did not improve its human rights record. Although the Japanese leader is unlikely to press China on human rights, he will bring up the issue of North Korea's nuclear programme, which is beginning to rattle Tokyo.

Japan has gone to great lengths to establish cordial relations with China, which it sees as a potentially enormous market for Japanese goods and also as a possible military threat in the medium-term. There is little sympathy for the US attempt to use trade sanctions as a way of improving the lot of political prisoners in Chinese jails.

But one issue on which the Japanese think China can exert some of its influence is the refusal by North Korea to allow comprehensive international inspections of its nuclear plants. Earlier this week inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) returned from a trip to North Korea during which they were prevented from doing their job properly.

Japan, along with South Korea and the US, is beginning to conclude that diplomacy alone will not force the North Koreans to stop their suspected nuclear-bomb programme. The next step would be to impose economic sanctions in the UN Security Council - and the Japanese want to ensure that the Chinese will not veto sanctions if they do become necessary. The US has already said it will call off a planned high-level meeting with North Korean officials next week.

So far, China, which still supplies North Korea with some fuel and fertilisers and has closer relations with the Pyongyang government than any other country, has said it opposes sanctions against North Korea.

The Chinese are primarily interested in economic assistance from Japan, and reportedly want pounds 9.3bn in aid over the next five years, nearly double the current sum.