China’s position stirs discontent in South Korea

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China’s position stirs discontent in South Korea

China’s diplomatic maneuvers regarding the resumption of six-party talks - as a way of dealing with recent provocations by North Korea - are continuing, with Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo planning to visit Pyongyang as early as last night, according to Kyodo News Agency yesterday.

But, Seoul is growing discontent with moves by Beijing, whose real intention in mounting a late intervention appears to be focused more on diverting attention from the provocations rather than reining in its communist ally.

Reuters reported, citing UN envoys, that because of Chinese opposition, a discussion to push the UN Security Council to condemn North Korea’s deadly attack on Yeonpyeong Island and its uranium enrichment program is on the brink of collapse.

Some Seoul officials hope South Korea, the U.S. and Japan will try to come up with their own solutions when the foreign ministers of the three countries meet in Washington on Monday.

The meeting of the three foreign ministers come as their countries do not agree with a proposal Sunday by China for a meeting among the representatives of the six-party talks. China said the meeting would not constitute the resumption of the talks on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament, but hoped it will lead to it.

Politicians here raised opposition to the proposal. “It is the equivalent of giving an exemption to North Korea from paying a price for its behavior,” said Nam Kyung-pil, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee of the National Assembly.

The Nov. 23 Yeonpyeong attack was the first North Korean artillery attack on South Korean soil since the Korean War. Eight months earlier, 46 South Korean sailors were killed in the sinking of South Korean warship Cheonan, apparently by a North Korean torpedo. “Having a dialogue as early as this will send the wrong signal to North Korea,” Nam said.

Even North Korea disregarded the necessity of a six-party talk meeting yesterday. “So far, we [North Korea] have participated in the six-party talks continuously to show our sincerity but the international community has done nothing for us. We don’t need dialogue with the U.S. anymore. Eye for eye is the resolution of General Kim Jong-il and his shower of fire will continue,” said Ri Yong-ho, vice marshal of North Korea’s People’s Army. Ri’s remark is seen by some observers as throwing a cold blanket on China’s efforts to salvage things.

Seoul’s lack of trust in China providing a solution to the recent North’s provocations is also detected on the international diplomatic stage. The government has yet to call for a discussion at the UN Security Council on the Yeonpyeong shelling, which is seen by diplomats of other countries as “out of character for South Korea.”

The Security Council has consulted on the Yeonpyeong shelling and the recent revelation of an uranium enrichment facility in the North, which was initiated by some western members including the U.S., the U.K. and France. But a participating Western diplomat told Reuters on Tuesday that the talks were on the brink of collapse after China’s opposition.

The diplomat said China was against the idea by the western countries to explicitly “condemn” North Korea and declare it in “violation” of UN resolutions passed after its nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

Despite dissatisfaction with China’s approach, however, some diplomatic observers say China is one of the few available cards that South Korea can depend on to restrain the maverick North.

President Lee Myung-bak also said yesterday at a meeting with foreign affairs advisers that it is not desirable to create two opposing blocs with South Korea and the U.S. on one side and North Korea and China on the other, according to the participants.

“I have met President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao more than 10 times over the past three years and relations have reached the point where we could discuss important issues,” Lee was quoted as saying by the participants. “South Korea and China have to strengthen dialogue and trust between each other.”

By Moon Gwang-lip []
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