Seoul complains about Kim’s trip to Beijing

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Seoul complains about Kim’s trip to Beijing

South Korea continued to voice displeasure at Beijing over the timing of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s trip to Dalian Monday - just three days after President Lee Myung-bak and Chinese President Hu Jintao met in Shanghai - and implored the country to play “a responsible role” during tense times.

South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek yesterday met with Zhang Xinsen, Chinese ambassador to Seoul, in what had been scheduled as a meet-and-greet session for the newly arrived envoy.

But Hyun instead mentioned “dynamic developments” in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, citing the deadly sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan and the North Korean decision to seize South Korean properties at the Mount Kumgang resort.

“At times like this, China needs to take a responsible role,” Hyun said.

Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Ministry refused to confirm Kim’s visit at a regular briefing for the press Tuesday.

“On this issue in which you are very interested, at present I don’t have any information,” said spokeswoman Jiang Yu after being asked about press coverage of Kim’s arrival in Dalian.

Kim is visiting China as South Korea seeks China’s support in case North Korea is found responsible for the Cheonan sinking and South Korea raises the matter at the United Nations Security Council.

China is one of five veto-wielding members on the Security Council, whose unanimity is required for any binding resolution.

On Monday, Vice Foreign Minister Shin Kak-soo summoned Zhang to relay Seoul’s disappointment regarding Kim’s visit.

According to a Foreign Ministry official yesterday, Shin expressed South Korea’s disappointment that China didn’t inform Seoul of Kim’s visit.

Three days before Kim’s arrival in China, President Lee held a summit with Chinese President Hu in Shanghai at the opening ceremony of the Shanghai World Expo.

The official added, without elaborating, that Shin relayed the South Korean government’s objection to China’s receiving Kim while an investigation to determine the cause of the Cheonan warship sinking is ongoing.

For its part, South Korea has been criticized for its diplomatic failure with China. Blue House spokesman Park Sun-kyoo refrained from commenting on the criticism. And a senior presidential official tried to play it down.

“Kim’s trip had been anticipated for a while,” he said. “And the Blue House knew about Kim’s visit to China well before the media began reporting.”

Another Blue House official said: “Let me just say this clearly. China informed us of nothing.”

Despite joining the rest of the international community in imposing sanctions on Pyongyang for its nuclear test last May, China remains North Korea’s biggest ally and benefactor.

Mired in economic hardship, compounded by an international arms trade embargo and a failed currency reform last fall, North Korea is seeking Chinese aid. During his stay in China, Kim was expected to meet with Chinese business leaders to encourage investment in North Korea.

If North Korea offers to return to the six-party denuclearization talks, stalled since December 2008, in exchange for Chinese aid, South Korean officials and observers fear that China would consider resuming the discussions separate from any results from the Cheonan probe. South Korea has maintained there would be no six-party talks before the Cheonan investigation is finished.

South Korea has made diplomatic efforts to secure China’s vote in its favor if the Cheonan case ever reaches the UN Security Council.

“We’re monitoring what kind of message Kim Jong-il will deliver to China,” said an official at the South Korean Embassy in Beijing. “We’re hoping China won’t be swayed by North Korean attempts to dilute the Cheonan situation.”

Kim Jong-il stayed overnight in Dalian and was later expected to head to Beijing and meet Hu.

By Yoo Jee-ho, Chang Se-jeong []
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