“The Chinese indicated they take this very seriously. . . . They will work actively with us,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.
The president’s plea to China comes as Pyongyang has proved brazenly unwilling to bow to the U.S. administration’s mix of economic sanctions and incentives. As Asia’s economic and military behemoth, China, which borders North Korea and acts as the impoverished country’s most reliable economic benefactor, has far more leverage.
Rhodes added that Obama told Hu to weigh Pyongyang’s pattern of bad behavior over time, rather than focusing solely on the recent provocations.
“Part of what is so distressing about this type of action is how regularly it is that North Korea chooses to engage in these types of provocative acts,” Rhodes said. “President Obama said we need to look at the bigger picture. There is new leadership in North Korea. Do they do the same the same thing the old leadership did or go down a different path?”
The session was just one in a series of bilateral meetings that Obama held with world leaders here as part of an international summit on nuclear security. But his message for Hu illustrated the ways in which the administration, running low on options, is increasingly turning to China for help on pressing foreign policy matters.
On Iran, Syria and Sudan, Washington has sought to enlist Beijing as a political ally to address complex, diverse issues, from nuclear ambitions to a brutal authoritarian crackdown to a potential famine.
The administration’s challenge, however, is complicated by its recent push to stand up to China on the economic front, where Obama has demanded that the world’s second-largest economy “play by the rules of the road” — namely, respecting intellectual property rights, revaluing its currency to balance trade and loosening control of its near-monopoly on rare-earth materials used in the production of many common electronic goods.
Rhodes called the relationship “very large and complex.”
When asked at a news conference Sunday what he would request of Hu, Obama said: “It’s not in anybody’s interest to see a nuclearized [Korean] Peninsula. The Chinese say they agree with that. The question then is, given that they have more influence and closer diplomatic relations with North Korea than any other country on Earth, what are they doing to help guide or encourage North Korea to take a more constructive approach?”