Image: Abe
Claro Cortes IV  /  Reuters
New Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holds a news conference in Beijing on Sunday.
updated 10/8/2006 12:30:49 PM ET 2006-10-08T16:30:49

The leaders of Japan and China said Sunday they were deeply concerned about a possible North Korean nuclear test and promised to cooperate in persuading Pyongyang to stand down, a Japanese official said.

Meanwhile, a former South Korean lawmaker said North Korea denied a nuclear test was imminent, citing a Chinese diplomat who spoke to officials from the North on Sunday. China is North Korea’s closest ally.

There had been speculation that a nuclear test could come Sunday, the anniversary of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s appointment as head of the Korean Workers’ Party in 1997.

North to drop nuclear test plans?
However, former South Korean lawmaker Jang Sung-min said the North told China it had not raised the alert level of its military. He said he spoke to an unidentified Chinese diplomat who learned of North Korea’s stance from Pyongyang officials Sunday afternoon.

Jang said the North also told China it may drop plans to test its first atomic bomb if the United States holds bilateral talks with Pyongyang — or accelerate the plans if the U.S. moves toward sanctions or a military attack. The United States has repeatedly denied it intends to invade North Korea.

Jang, who spoke in Seoul, is a former ruling party lawmaker who currently heads a think tank in Seoul and has been active in Northeast Asian affairs.

The Chinese official’s comments could not be independently confirmed.

In Beijing, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met in the first summit between the Asian powers in five years. Relations between the two countries have been strained, but efforts to arrange the summit gathered urgency after North Korea threatened the nuclear test.

“Hu and Abe, during their talks, said they were deeply concerned over North Korea’s threat to conduct a nuclear test, and they vowed to cooperate to dissuade it from conducting one,” a senior Japanese delegation official told reporters on condition of anonymity because of rules for the briefing.

Shuttle diplomacy
Abe, whose country has felt increasingly threatened by North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, was leading a round of shuttle diplomacy. He was to visit Seoul for talks with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun on Monday.

Persuading China and South Korea to support forceful diplomacy and potentially tough sanctions against Pyongyang is seen as crucial. Over the past three years, Beijing and Seoul have resisted sanctions and argued for engagement as the best way to deal with the isolated regime.

But calls for a harder line have mounted since North Korea’s latest threat.

“North Korea must not conduct nuclear tests,” Abe demanded before leaving for his summits. “We need to transmit a message to North Korea that unless it revokes its test plans, it will face further isolation from international society and its situation will deteriorate.”

Jittery nations have warned a test would unravel regional security and possibly trigger an arms race.

The U.N. Security Council issued a stern statement Friday urging the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions and warning of unspecified consequences if the isolated communist regime does not comply.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry said it was prepared to push for punitive measures at the United Nations if the North goes ahead with the test.

A top Japanese ruling party official warned of further sanctions if North Korea conducts a nuclear test. Tokyo began stepping up trade restrictions on North Korea in July after it test-fired seven missiles, including a long-range rocket, into the waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula.

“We have already imposed financial measures ... but we may have to go further, like stopping imports and exports (from North Korea)” if it conducts a nuclear test, Shoichi Nakagawa, the Liberal Democratic Party’s policy chief, said on public broadcaster NHK.

North Korean troops cross DMZ
A midday incursion Saturday by North Korean troops into the southern side of the no-man’s-land separating North and South Korea only stoked the tensions.

South Korean soldiers rattled off 40 warning shots at the five communist troops who crossed the center line of the Demilitarized Zone.

It was unclear whether the North Korean advance was intended as a provocation, or was an attempt to go fishing at a nearby stream, an official at South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, citing official policy. No one was hurt, and the North Koreans retreated.

While such border skirmishes are not unheard of, they are relatively rare. Saturday’s incursion was only the second this year, the official said.

State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said Saturday the United States was concerned about North Korea’s threat to test its first atomic bomb and the department was closely monitoring the high tensions.

North Korea said Tuesday it decided to act in the face of what it claimed was “the U.S. extreme threat of a nuclear war,” but gave no date for the test.

Talks between Abe and Chinese leaders — the first summit-level talks between Japan and China since October 2001 — also focused on mending frayed diplomatic ties.

China canceled previous meetings to protest former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to a Tokyo war shrine seen as a symbol of Japan’s imperialist past. A handful of war criminals are worshipped in the shrine along with the rest of Japan’s fallen soldiers.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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