BEIJING — China's top general said a fourth North Korean nuclear weapons test is a possibility that underscores the need for fresh talks between Pyongyang and other regional parties.
Gen. Fang Fenghui, the chief of the general staff, said Beijing firmly opposes the North's nuclear weapons program and wants to work with others on negotiations to end it. He said Beijing's preference is for a return to long-stalled disarmament talks involving the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the United States.
Fang offered no indication as to when Beijing thought a nuclear test might happen. Nor did he give other details.
His comments Monday followed a meeting with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose first visit to China in that position comes amid heightened tensions between Pyongyang, South Korea and the United States.
North Korea has been threatening to attack the United States and South Korea over recent military drills and sanctions imposed as punishment for its third nuclear test in February. Pyongyang calls the annual drills a rehearsal for an invasion. South Korean officials have said the North is poised to test-fire a medium-range missile capable of reaching the American territory of Guam.
China is North Korea's most important diplomatic ally and main trading partner and a key source of food and fuel aid. Yet although Beijing signed on to tougher U.N. sanctions following the February test, it says it has limited influence with Pyongyang, and Fang declined to say whether Beijing will adopt tougher measures to pressure the North into reducing tensions.
In other remarks, Fang also sought to reassure Dempsey over recent reports of Chinese military-sponsored hacking attacks on U.S. targets, saying China opposes all such activity. The new spotlight on a long-festering problem has prompted calls for Washington to get tough on Beijing, and the administration is reportedly considering measures ranging from trade sanctions to diplomatic pressure and electronic countermeasures.