BEIJING – China on Thursday rejected Sen. John McCain's suggestion that it lean on North Korea to rein in its nuclear weapons program, saying that such a move would not bring results.
In neighboring North Korea, meanwhile, Kim Jong Il cemented his leadership of the isolated nation despite apparent ailing health from a stroke eight months ago. A rubber–stamp assembly re–elected him as chairman of the National Defense Commission, the nation's top position.
It marked a new boost for Kim following Sunday's launch of a rocket, which the West decried as a disguised test of a long–range ballistic missile designed to carry a nuclear warhead.
McCain was joined by fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham in criticizing China for accepting North Korea's explanation that it had launched a satellite into space rather than tested an intercontinental ballistic missile, and refusing to get tough on Pyongyang.
Never miss a local story.
"I want to say frankly what we all know, and that is the nation that has true influence over North Korea is this one (China)," McCain, who lost a Republican presidential bid last fall, said in a morning press conference. He called on China to "take a strong stand" and support possible new sanctions against North Korea in the U.N. Security Council, where China holds veto power.
China is North Korea's closest ally, and provides the bulk of the energy supplies needed to keep the Kim regime afloat. China fears an influx of refugees if the regime collapses. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu dismissed McCain's suggestion that Beijing should step up pressure on North Korea to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile program. "Pressure will not contribute to the goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Jiang said.
As a rising military power, China closely monitors satellite and space activity. Jiang, however, refused to pass judgment on Sunday's launch, saying only that it had "taken note" that Pyongyang said it launched a satellite.
Graham disparaged China for accepting North Korea's explanation, which said its satellite is transmitting patriotic music in homage to Kim and his father, Kim Il Sung.
"Let there be no mistake about it: The missile programs of North Korea are not designed to give better music in space," Graham said. "When the Chinese government suggests that they think the missile launch is about a satellite, that's disheartening because I think all the evidence suggests otherwise."
Graham said China's position "makes it hard for me to convince my constituents to help China in other areas because they see that behavior as very threatening to U.S. interests."
McCain voiced disappointment in stalled disarmament talks hosted by China since 2003 that bring the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the United States to the negotiating table. North Korea tested a nuclear device in 2006.
"I don't think the talks have been very productive," McCain said.
More from McClatchy