[EDITORIALS]China Looks Up a 'Relative'

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[EDITORIALS]China Looks Up a 'Relative'

Chinese President Jiang Zemin begins a three-day visit to North Korea on Monday. He is to meet with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, raising the expectation that he may provide the key to a breakthrough in the stalemated dialogues between the two Koreas and between the North and the United States.

The visit also quickens hope that there may be progress on the proposed visit by the North's leader to Seoul. But we express concern that Mr. Jiang's visit may set in motion developments that prove to be the exact opposites of those positive expectations.

Mr. Kim may get a fresh flush of confidence about his hold on the regime, turning the clock back to where things were before the joint declaration made between the leaders of North and South Korea in June last year.

A consensus among national security analysts is that Mr. Jiang's visit represents the culmination of a new multilateral alliance by North Korea, China and Russia that has emerged since the inauguration of the Bush administration. Mr. Kim has visited with the Chinese leader twice in the last two years, and he has held two summit meetings this year with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Our interest lies in how the new alliance will affect the deadlocked North-South relations.

Chinese foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan has recently stressed the long ties that exist between China and North Korea, and likened Mr. Jiang's visit to "looking up a relative." Mr. Jiang is not expected to be making the visit empty-handed; gifts for this "relative" are reported to include food aid and a supply of crude oil. Mr. Tang has confirmed to the Japanese media China's plan to resume economic assistance to North Korea. He also remarked on the plan to urge the opening of a direct dialogue between the North and South.

But the weight of the visit is considered to be more on mending China's relationship with the North, which has been regarded as having taken a back seat after China and South Korea established diplomatic relations. There is not enough on the plate that we can see to ensure progress in the dialogue between the two Koreas and in the proposed visit by the North Korean leader to the South.

Separately, talks are expected to begin on a reported agreement by Russia to help refurbish four power plants in North Korea. Mr. Jiang's visit will further increase the North's economic rewards from the newly forged alliances with the northern neighbors. Even as the debate continues in the South on whether assistance to North Korea amounts to handouts, China and Russia stand able to neutralize the effectiveness of the South's economic assistance as bait to reopen dialogue.

The North-South relationship is a Korean issue, but at the same time it is in a larger geopolitical arena that involves China, Russia, Japan and the United States. It is a complicated issue that forbids getting our expectations too high too fast. But the leaders in this country are pulling themselves deeper into political turmoil by turning a disagreement over the "sunshine policy" on North Korea into an ideological battle. It is exasperating to say the least to watch our leaders busy with political squabble when they should be busy putting their heads together to figure out the policies they will undertake after the Chinese president's visit. Our concerns should be brought to China, and we should also be ready to discuss how to approach the North when our delegation meets soon with the Japanese and American counterparts in Japan for the Trilateral Coordination and Oversight Group meetings.

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