South Korea's Moon Jae-in calls on China's Xi to do more on North Korea nuclear program

SEOUL, June 22 (Reuters) - South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday China should do more to rein in North Korea's nuclear program and he would call on President Xi Jinping to lift measures against South Korean companies taken in retaliation against Seoul's decision to host a U.S. anti-missile defense system.

In an interview with Reuters ahead of his trip to Washington next week for a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, Moon said 'strong' sanctions should be imposed if North Korea tests an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or conducts a sixth nuclear test.

"It must be sufficiently strong enough that it would prevent North Korea from making any additional provocations, and also strong enough that it will make North Korea realize that they are going down the wrong path," Moon said.

The comments mark the toughest warning yet by the liberal former human rights lawyer, who was elected in May after campaigning for a more moderate approach to the North and engaging the reclusive country in dialog. As a candidate, he said, sanctions alone have failed to impede Pyongyang's defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

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The scene of the intermediate-range ballistic missile Pukguksong-2's launch test in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) May 22, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
The long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) is launched during a test in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
Missiles are driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of North Korea's founding father, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Sue-Lin Wong
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People cheer as a missile is driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Military vehicles carry missiles with characters reading 'Pukkuksong' during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father, Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised a ballistic rocket launching drill of Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the KPA on the spot in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 7, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERSATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A fire drill of ballistic rockets by Hwasong artillery units of the KPA Strategic Force is pictured in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 6, 2016. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.
FILE PHOTO - An underwater test-firing of a strategic submarine ballistic missile is seen in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on April 24, 2016. KCNA/File Photo via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
A view of a firing contest among multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) batteries selected from large combined units of the KPA, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on December 21, 2016. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.
Ballistic rocket is seen launching during a drill by the Hwasong artillery units of the KPA Strategic Force in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang on July 21, 2016. KCNA/via ReutersATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS.Ã TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A test launch of ground-to-ground medium long-range ballistic rocket Hwasong-10 in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on June 23, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A new multiple launch rocket system is test fired in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 4, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA
A rocket is launched during a demonstration of a new large-caliber multiple rocket launching system attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (not pictured) at an unknown location, in this undated file photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 22, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA/Files ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A rocket is fired during a drill by anti-aircraft units of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang November 3, 2015. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
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North Korea will acquire the technology to deploy a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of hitting the mainland United States "in the not too distant future," Moon said.

EXERT MORE PRESSURE

"I believe China is making efforts to stop North Korea from making additional provocations, yet there are no tangible results as of yet," Moon told Reuters at the sprawling Blue House presidential compound.

"China is North Korea's only ally and China is the country that provides the most economic assistance to North Korea," Moon said. "Without the assistance of China, sanctions won't be effective at all."

Moon's remarks echoed that of U.S. President Donald Trump, who said in a tweet on Tuesday Chinese efforts to persuade North Korea to rein in its nuclear program have failed. Top U.S. officials pressed China on Wednesday to exert more economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea-level in talks with their counterparts in Washington on Wednesday.

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"Maybe President Trump believes that there is more room for China to engage North Korea and it seems that he is urging China to do more. I can also sympathize with that message," Moon said.

China accounts for 90 percent of world trade with North Korea. Diplomats say Beijing has not been fully enforcing existing international sanctions on its neighbor, and has resisted tougher measures, such as an oil embargo and bans on the North Korean airline and guest workers.

Washington has considered imposing "secondary sanctions" against Chinese banks and other firms doing business with North Korea.

G20 MEETING

South Korea and the United States agreed to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system in response to the growing missile threat from North Korea.

But the move has angered China, which says the system's powerful radar will look deep into its territory and undermine regional security. China has pressured South Korean businesses via boycotts and bans, such as ending Chinese group tours to South Korea and closing most of South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group's Lotte Mart retail stores in China.

Lotte handed over a golf course it owned in southern South Korea so the THAAD battery could be installed there.

RELATED: North Korea's May 2017 missile test

17 PHOTOS
North Korea's May 2017 missile test
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North Korea's May 2017 missile test
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A man watches a television screen showing Moon Jae-in, South Korea's president, during a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, its seventh such test this year, just days after South Korea elected a president�who vowed to engage with�Kim Jong Un's regime to defuse tensions over its nuclear weapons program. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) is launched during a test in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
A foreigner walks past a television screen showing an image of Kim Jong Un, leader of North Korea, center, during a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, its seventh such test this year, just days after South Korea elected a president�who vowed to engage with�Kim Jong Un's regime to defuse tensions over its nuclear weapons program. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts with members of the Korean People's Army in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
A woman stands in front of a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, its seventh such test this year, just days after South Korea elected a president�who vowed to engage with�Kim Jong Un's regime to defuse tensions over its nuclear weapons program. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) is launched during a test in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, its seventh such test this year, just days after South Korea elected a president�who vowed to engage with�Kim Jong Un's regime to defuse tensions over its nuclear weapons program. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (L) waving to the Korean People's Army construction department officials in Pyongyang. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, its seventh such test this year, just days after South Korea elected a president�who vowed to engage with�Kim Jong Un's regime to defuse tensions over its nuclear weapons program. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
The long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) is launched during a test in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
A man watches a television screen showing Moon Jae-in, South Korea's president, during a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, its seventh such test this year, just days after South Korea elected a president�who vowed to engage with�Kim Jong Un's regime to defuse tensions over its nuclear weapons program. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts during the long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) test launch in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
A man watches a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, its seventh such test this year, just days after South Korea elected a president�who vowed to engage with�Kim Jong Un's regime to defuse tensions over its nuclear weapons program. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, its seventh such test this year, just days after South Korea elected a president�who vowed to engage with�Kim Jong Un's regime to defuse tensions over its nuclear weapons program. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Moon said that while China has never officially acknowledged economic retaliation, many South Korean businesses face difficulties in China, and he hopes to hold talks with Xi at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany next month to address the issue.

"If I have the chance to meet President Xi, I will ask for him to lift these measures. This is the agenda that we cannot evade," Moon said.

"If we were to link political and military issues to economic and cultural exchanges, this could lead to some hindrance to the development of our friendly relationship between our two countries."

Moon said he wants to sit down with as many world leaders as possible in Hamburg -- including Xi, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin -- where he expects the North's nuclear program will top the agenda.

JAPAN'S WARTIME PAST

Japan is an important partner in the effort to resolve the North Korean crisis but Tokyo's refusal to fully own up to its wartime past, its claims to the disputed islands between the two countries as well as its growing military spending are concerning, Moon said.

"If Japan were to show its strong resolve in looking back on its past history and sending a message that such actions will never happen again... then I believe that this will go a long way in further developing its relations with not only Korea but also with many other Asian nations," he said.

Moon has said many South Koreans did not accept a deal reached by his conservative predecessor and Japan's Abe in 2015 to resolve the issue of Korean "comfort women" -- a euphemism for women forced to work in the Japanese military's wartime brothels.

"Japan does not make full efforts to resolve issues of history between our two countries, including the comfort women issue," Moon said.

Moon said he has "high expectations" for the upcoming summit with Trump next week and said the priority the two leaders have placed on North Korea has raised the possibility the nuclear issue will be resolved.

"I'm very glad that President Trump has made the resolution of North Korea's nuclear issue as top of his priority list on his foreign affairs agenda."

(Additional reporting by Jack Kim and Christine Kim in Seoul; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

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