South talks with China about North missile

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South talks with China about North missile

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[사진= JTBC영상 캡처]

Amid growing speculation that North Korea may fire off a long-range ballistic missile in the weeks to come, South Korea, the United States and China are making moves behind the scenes in efforts to dissuade Pyongyang from moving forward with an act banned by the United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Yesterday, Lim Sung-nam, Seoul’s chief negotiator of the six-party talks, left Seoul for Beijing “to exchange views on the recent situation on the Korean Peninsula with Chinese officials,” according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

In the afternoon of his two-day trip, Lim met with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei and other Beijing officials.

Before he left the country, the envoy told Yonhap News Agency that he and his counterpart “will exchange views on the direction of the North Korea policy under the new Chinese leadership and discuss future cooperation over issues on the Korean Peninsula.”

Lim’s abrupt visit is seen as a move to discuss the recent developments involving reports that the North will launch a long-range missile soon.

On Monday, a satellite image by DigitalGlobe, a provider of commercial satellite images, showed increased activity at North Korea’s launch site in Tongchang-ri, North Pyongan Province in northwestern North Korea.

It said: “Given the observed level of activity noted, of a new tent, trucks, people and numerous portable fuel-oxidizer tanks, should North Korea desire - it could possibly conduct its fifth satellite launch even during the next three weeks.”

South Korean military officials have also noted “there are apparent signs [satellite images] of preparations for a missile launch in the North.”

In April, Pyongyang, under its new leader Kim Jong-un, unsuccessfully launched a rocket, which was widely seen by others as a failed attempt for a long-range missile test.

“In their talks, Lim and Wu shared thoughts that if North Korea launches a missile, it would have a negative impact on improving not only South-North relations but also stabilizing the peninsula and nearby countries,” said a diplomatic source in Beijing. “The two decided to maximize efforts in refraining the North’s launch.”

China also reportedly delivered a message to South Korea that there is no change in the principle even under the new Xi Jinping leadership that Chinese foreign affairs will not support North’s provocative activities that hamper safety in Northeast Asia.

Meanwhile, Liu Qibao, a Politburo member, also arrived in Pyongyang yesterday, which is the first visit by a Chinese official since a change in leadership in Beijing. Whether or not the Chinese official will dissuade North Korea from its rocket launch attempt is unknown.

Reports on Pyongyang’s missile launch attempt continued. On Monday, CNN reported, citing an unnamed source that “if there was a launch, it would likely be a long-range missile such as the Taepodong-2 because the Sohae site is a long-range missile launch pad.”

The Washington Post also reported, “If the North does proceed with a launch, timing will be crucial: The blast could either prove a factor in South Korea’s Dec. 19 presidential election or become the first major test for the new leader.”

Alarmed by a possible launch by the North, interaction between high-level officials from South Korea and the United States has recently become more frequent. Lee Do-hoon, director-general of Seoul’s Foreign Ministry’s North Korean Nuclear Affairs Bureau and also the deputy chief envoy for the six-party talks, met with his American counterpart, Clifford Hart. Lim is also expected to visit Washington sometime next week.

“As the [South Korean] government, we are closely monitoring the move [by the North],” said Cho Tai-young, spokesman at Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.

By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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