BEIJING — President Barack Obama is squelching speculation that the release of two Americans held in North Korea might pave the way for a new round of nuclear talks, saying the U.S. needs more than “small gestures” before reopening a high level of dialogue with Pyongyang.

Shortly after Obama arrived in China, North Korea’s neighbor and chief benefactor, the president made his first extensive public comments Monday on the hand-over of Americans Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller. The timing of the Americans’ release raised questions about what message North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, might be trying to send the U.S. president while he is in the region.

While Obama welcomed Bae’s and Miller’s reunion with their families, he insisted that his administration had offered nothing in return to North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated and impoverished countries.

“There were not high-level policy discussions,” Obama said during a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. When asked whether the negotiations to secure Bae and Miller’s release gave him new insight into North Korea’s mysterious president and his strategy for dealing with the U.S., Obama said curtly, “No.”

The president’s dismissive tone was echoed by senior administration officials who said that while the White House remains open to engagement with North Korea, Pyongyang still has not shown any seriousness about dismantling its nuclear program or in addressing human rights violations.

The president arrived in Beijing Monday for his first visit to China since 2009. His discussions during three days of talks largely center on strengthening U.S. economic ties with the booming region.