BEIJING (Reuters) - A North Korean envoy held talks with Chinese officials on Wednesday that experts said were unlikely to yield concessions from Pyongyang on its nuclear program but were more aimed at repairing ties with Beijing.
First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan, who has represented Pyongyang at previous international talks to get North Korea to halt its nuclear program, was meeting Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui in Beijing.
His trip comes just days after North Korea offered talks with Washington to ease tensions that spiked earlier this year when it threatened to wage nuclear war on the United States and South Korea. The White House said any talks must involve action by Pyongyang to show it is moving towards disarmament.
North Korea was looking for holes in the international consensus that it must denuclearize by seeking dialogue with various countries, said Wang Dong, an international relations professor at Peking University in Beijing.
"If China's stance is still firm, North Korea will understand that there are no loopholes to exploit," Wang said.
"You can't have your cake and eat it too. I think China will make this clear to North Korea," he said, referring to Pyongyang's refusal to give up its nuclear weapons while at the same time trying to mend ties with key powers.
The talks are the highest-level contact between China and North Korea since U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in California in early June and agreed Pyongyang had to denuclearize.
North Korea has repeatedly said it will never abandon its nuclear weapons, calling them its "treasured sword", a term one of its official newspapers used again on Wednesday.
Late last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sent another envoy to Beijing. According to a source with knowledge of that visit, Chinese officials gave the envoy a lukewarm reception while saying Beijing wanted an end to the North's nuclear and missile tests.
Li Bin, a nuclear policy expert at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in Beijing, said he did not believe North Korea was ready to discuss its nuclear program with China.
"But now they see that China is very serious with sanctions and is very angry. My guess is that they are coming to Beijing to avoid a situation in which the relationship between the two countries gets worse," he said.
China, the closest thing Pyongyang has to a major ally, backed the latest round of U.N. sanctions on North Korea, imposed for its Feb 12. nuclear test. Some Chinese banks have also curtailed ties to their North Korean counterparts in the wake of a crackdown by Washington on the North's finances.
CHINA WANTS PYONGYANG TO RETURN TO TALKS
Beijing has repeatedly urged North Korea to return to so-called six-party talks that aimed to get Pyongyang to halt its nuclear program.
In 2009, Pyongyang said it would never return to those talks. The four other participants in the negotiations were South Korea, the United States, Japan and Russia.
Kim Kye-gwan was North Korea's main negotiator at those talks.
Next week South Korea's President Park Geun-hye visits China, where North Korea is likely to be high on the agenda.
Washington has been skeptical of any move by Pyongyang towards dialogue as it has repeatedly backtracked on deals, most recently in 2012, when it agreed to a missile and nuclear test moratorium only to fire a rocket a few weeks later.
North Korea also remains unpredictable.
After agreeing to hold dialogue with South Korea to reopen joint economic projects, Pyongyang abruptly canceled the talks last week because of a row over who would represent the respective delegations.
(Reporting by Michael Martina and Li Hui. Editing by Dean Yates)