A strong response to a Syrian chemical weapons attack would help deter North Korea from using its "massive chemical weapons arsenal", a senior U.S. defense official said in Beijing, as Washington presses its case for a military strike on Syria.
The United States and France say forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were behind the attack last month in which more than 1,400 people are estimated to have been killed, and that they are considering air strikes to try to deter him from using such weapons again.
U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller said he felt compelled to stress that norms against the use of chemical weapons be upheld in scheduled talks with China's Defence Ministry on Monday.
"I emphasized the massive chemical weapons arsenal that North Korea has and that we didn't want to live in a world in which North Korea felt the threshold for chemical weapons use had been lowered," Miller told reporters on Tuesday.
"I went through that case and made the argument that it was strongly, not just in American national interests but in Chinese and international interests, that there be a strong response to Assad's clear and massive use of chemical weapons," he said.
Miller said Wang Guanzhong, Deputy Chief of General Staff of China's People's Liberation Army, took his comments "on board" but Wang told Miller he had to defer to China's Foreign Ministry on questions about Syria.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has urged Washington to proceed with "extreme caution" on Syria and Chinese President Xi Jinping told U.S. President Barack Obama at a G20 summit in Russia on Friday that a military strike could not solve the problem.
Beijing has repeatedly called for an impartial investigation by U.N. chemical weapons inspectors into the attack in Syria, and has warned against pre-judging the results. It has also said that whoever used chemical weapons had to be held accountable.
Miller said he also discussed cyber security with Wang and urged China to pressure impoverished and isolated North Korea, which has tested nuclear weapons three times since 2006, toward "credible and authentic" denuclearisation talks.