Six-party talks for the sake of it won’t work: Lee

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Six-party talks for the sake of it won’t work: Lee

Wrapping up a three-day summit in Vietnam, President Lee Myung-bak returned to Seoul on Saturday with several diplomatic achievements under his belt - ranging from brokering a tripartite meeting with China and Japan amid those two countries’ territorial and trade rows, to reconfirming efforts to fast-track the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement.

During his three-day stay in Hanoi, Lee attended three summits and promoted his diplomatic initiatives focused on Asia. In addition to summit meetings with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Asean Plus 3 and the East Asia Summit, Lee also sought support for the upcoming G-20 Summit in Seoul.

One of Lee’s major achievements was confirming Korea’s role as a mediator by arranging a trilateral summit of the Northeast Asian powerhouses - China, Japan and Korea. Amid escalated tensions over a territorial dispute and subsequent trade conflict, Beijing unilaterally announced on Friday that it rejected a scheduled summit between Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

But Lee brokered a trilateral meeting, including Korea, to discuss sensitive bilateral issues, along with regional topics. Despite the tense relationship between Japan and China, the three leaders managed to reach an agreement on efforts to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

“The three leaders agreed that the six-party talks must not resume just for the sake of having talks,” said Blue House spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung after the trilateral summit Friday night. “They agreed that even if it takes time, the talks should resume when we are ready to bring about progress.”

Since the sinking of the South Korean Navy warship Cheonan in March, Seoul has been reluctant to sit down for the six-party talks unless Pyongyang issues an apology for the sinking. China agreed Friday not to rush potential talks, which appeared to indicate a subtle change in Beijing’s position.

Wen and Kan also discussed Beijing’s recent decision to block exports of rare-earth minerals from China to Japan. Rare-earth minerals are critical in the manufacturing of almost all advanced technological products, ranging from missiles to cell phones. China provides 97 percent of the world’s current supply of rare-earth minerals.

The export ban was prompted by a renewed territorial dispute between Japan and China over an island chain in the East China Sea called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan. Concerns about China’s willingness to use its economic clout in political or diplomatic disputes have increased as a result.

China Sea called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan. Concerns about China’s willingness to use its economic clout in political or diplomatic disputes have increased as a result.

“Kan raised the issue that Japan needs a stable supply of the rare earths,” Kim said. “Wen said China will continue to provide rare earths to the international community. He said that by cooperating with large consumers of the rare earths, China will continue to expand its sources of rare earths and try to develop alternative resources.”

After their official bilateral summit was canceled, Wen and Kan had a brief 10-minute encounter on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit on Saturday, according to media reports.

On Saturday, Lee met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and discussed issues of mutual concern. Clinton delivered a message from U.S. President Barack Obama, in which he said he wants to conclude negotiations to fine-tune the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement before the G-20 Summit in Seoul.

Lee added that he was also committed to concluding the deal, Kim said.

In addition to the seemingly nonstop schedule of meetings, Lee worked to get support for Seoul’s hosting of the G-20 Summit later this month, particularly at the East Asia Summit - the annual pan-Asian forum at which 16 regional countries discuss trade, energy and security issues.

The East Asia Summit is made up of the 10 Asean members, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. The United States and Russia became official members of the group at Saturday’s meeting.

According to the Blue House, Lee promoted Korea’s initiatives, including the establishment of a global financial safety net, and sought support for other pending issues, including International Monetary Fund quota reform.

During his meetings with the Asean leaders on Friday, Lee and the 10-member association agreed to strengthen Korea’s ties to Asean.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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