SEOUL (Reuters) - The presidents of China and South Korea at a summit on Monday called for cooperation in sputtering talks to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons while they pledged to boost trade between the major economic partners.
Chinese President Hu Jintao's two-day visit to South Korea came less than 24 hours after the closing of the Beijing Olympics and as regional powers press North Korea to accept a nuclear inspection system as part of a disarmament-for-aid deal the secretive state struck with five countries.
"We confirmed that the denuclearisation of North Korea will be achieved through six-party talks," President Lee Myung-bak said at a joint news conference with Hu.
A joint statement issued after their talks avoided criticism of any party in the nuclear talks but analysts said Hu may have been making a point of showing his concern about the nuclear deal by coming to Seoul fresh after Beijing's triumphant hosting of the Olympics.
In late June, North Korea released a long-delayed list of its nuclear activities as called for in the deal among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
But the United States has angered the North by refusing to remove it from a terrorism blacklist until Pyongyang allows for a way to verify details of the nuclear declaration.
Once removed, the impoverished North can better tap into international finance.
"President Lee and I agreed that the 6-party talks are now at a key stage," Hu said through a translator.
North Korea has also been angry at Lee, who took office in February and pledged to end what once had been a free flow of aid to his neighbour.
Lee said Seoul's handouts would be tied to progress the North makes in getting rid of its atomic arsenal. North Korea's official media has called him "a traitor to the nation" and fires rhetorical blasts his way on almost a daily basis.
More than 100 protesters rallied in central Seoul, calling on Beijing to stop the forced repatriation of thousands of North Koreans who flee over the border and into Chinese territory. Once sent back to North Korea, the refugees typically face jail terms at brutal prison camps.
China, the North's main benefactor, is also South Korea's largest trading partner with $145 billion in annual two-way trade, according to official South Korean data.
"We sincerely hope that the South and the North can maintain the momentum of reconciliation and cooperation," Hu said.
Lee said the two leaders aimed to increase two-way trade to $200 billion by 2010 through measures such as making it easier for financial firms to operate in the other's country.
Hu leaves for Tajikistan on Tuesday for a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a regional security forum that includes Russia. The trip will take him to Turkmenistan later.
(Additional reporting by Yoo Choonsik and Kim Junghyun)