Park makes ‘significant progress’ on China trip

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Park makes ‘significant progress’ on China trip

BEIJING - The Park Geun-hye administration expressed its satisfaction with China’s approach toward North Korea after her latest summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, calling Thursday’s joint communique significant progress to end Pyongyang’s nuclear brinkmanship.

North Korea experts agreed that China’s latest position was far more progressive than its previous stance, but some said it fell short of being seen as a clear shift.

“In the joint communique, the parts about the Korean Peninsula included many new aspects,” Foreign Minister Yoon Byung-se said. “It was the first time that China expressed its support officially for another government’s North Korea policy. In the joint communique, it was expressed as ‘China welcomes Park’s Korea Peninsula trust process.’?”

Yun also said the message urging the denuclearization of North Korea’s arms program was expressed with stronger rhetoric.

“You can see that the denuclearization of the North was expressed more strongly than the recent U.S.-China summit,” he said. “It stated that North Korea’s nuclear arms development is a serious threat to Northeast Asia. Along with South Korea and Japan, China is a member of the region, and it was an indirect way to state that the North’s nuclear program is also a threat to China.”

China, the largest benefactor and longtime ally of North Korea, has refrained from issuing straightforward messages to urge Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arms program.

Expectations were high in Seoul that China would use sterner words toward the North through the summit, and the Park administration appeared to be content with the language of the joint communique.

“If you look into the wording carefully, there are many hidden implications,” Yun said.

The joint communique did not condemn “North Korea’s nuclear program,” but stated instead that the “relevant nuclear development” poses a threat to Northeast Asia’s peace.

Because the paragraph right before addressed South Korea’s position that a nuclear-armed North Korea won’t be tolerated under any circumstances, the “relevant” program means the North’s atomic weapons, Yun said.

In 1998, China adopted the position that the goal of the joint declaration of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, issued in 1991 between the two Koreas, must be realized as soon as possible.

The stance reflects Pyongyang’s long-standing argument that its nuclear programs should be treated equally to the atomic programs of the South and U.S. Forces Korea.

“It is significant that China shifted from that position,” said Jeung Young-tae, senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification. “It means that China will no longer turn a blind eye to the North’s nuclear development and provocation.”

According to Jeung, a sign of change was also seen in China’s approach toward the six-party talks.

Until now, Beijing insisted on using the negotiations among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States as the sole tool to resolve the nuclear crisis.

But the joint communique from Thursday’s summit said the two leaders agreed to strengthen various formats of bilateral and multilateral talks within the six-party dialogue.

The Blue House said Seoul, Washington and Beijing will further work together to coordinate their policies toward Pyongyang.

Some experts, however, said the summit failed to meet the high expectations in Seoul that China would send a clear and stern message to the North. “China’s expression was less clear than that from the recent U.S.-China summit,” Lee Ho-chul, president of the Korean Association of International Studies, told the JoongAng Ilbo.

BY SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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