Tokyo’s actions push Seoul and Beijing closer

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Tokyo’s actions push Seoul and Beijing closer

As relations with Tokyo fray over historical and territorial disputes, Seoul and Beijing are enjoying a closer camaraderie as the countries’ top envoys held their first ministerial-level bilateral talks and agreed to open a new hotline.

Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se held his first meeting with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing Wednesday, holding talks of over three hours, and they even managed to make progress on the issue of North Korea. Yun stated that they will “closely cooperate on preventing any further provocation from North Korea.”

The two diplomats agreed to set up a new 24-hour hotline between Seoul and Beijing, the second one since a defense hotline started last year, which could prove useful in the wake of North Korea’s third nuclear test and threats of a missile launch.

“China is very well aware of the issue of the shutting down of business in the Kaesong Industrial Complex and empathized with our position very much,” Yun told reporters.

The diplomats discussed Pyongyang’s withdrawal from the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex and furthering trust-building measures on the peninsula, President Park Geun-hye’s key policy pledge in dealing with the North, said a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official.

Seoul and Beijing also agreed to strengthen “strategic communications” between them on the political front, a shift from the two countries being focused mostly on economic ties.

China emphasized that it’s doing its role to keep tension on the Korean Peninsula in check, including complying with sanctions set by the United Nations Security Council. But “China is in a position where it cannot give the impression to North Korea that it is siding completely with the South,” said a senior foreign affairs official.

Beijing has also boosted cooperation with the U.S., “which can send a message to Pyongyang that it will not always be on its side,” said the official. The U.S. has recently emphasized China’s role in controlling North Korea.

Earlier this week, China’s North Korea envoy, Wu Dawei, visited Washington to talk with U.S. officials, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns will reciprocate a visit to Beijing.

While Beijing gets friendlier with Washington and Seoul especially following U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s China visit earlier this month, Sino-Japanese ties are at a nadir following territorial disputes over islands in the East China Sea.

Yun stated previously he has had “meaningful” conversations with Wang over the phone since he took office in March. But Wang, a Japan expert who was Chinese ambassador in Tokyo, has yet to talk with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.

On his one-day trip, Yun also met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Wang Jiarui, head of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.



By Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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