How tough will Xi be on North?

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How tough will Xi be on North?

A key question hanging over Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit today is to what extent the North Korean nuclear problem will be addressed at the Seoul summit - and whether Xi will deliver a stronger message to his ally to denuclearize.

If there is no clear warning given to North Korea during the visit, the success of the summit between Xi and President Park Geun-hye could be undermined significantly, according to various analysts. Diplomatic sources indicated ahead of Xi’s visit that the two sides were in the final stages of negotiating whether to include in a joint statement a more direct message than reiterating that there is “cooperation to prevent another nuclear test.”

Since they both took office last year, Xi and Park have met four times.

There is anticipation that a joint statement released this week will contain a clearer warning about Pyongyang’s nuclear activities than in the joint communique issued at the Korea-China summit in June 2013.

“Currently, in a situation where the six-party talks have lost momentum, President Xi Jinping taking a clear position on the denuclearization of the North would indicate a meaningful change,” said Professor Lee Hee-ok, director of the Institute of China Studies at Sungkyunkwan University.

“If the terms ‘North Korea,’ ‘nuclear’ and ‘oppose’ are clearly specified, that would mark a milestone by China in regards to the North’s nuclear program,” he said, “and could be interpreted as a message containing a high level of pressure on North Korea.”

China usually describes the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” rather than pinpointing North Korea as the country that needs to denuclearize.

The 2013 joint communique issued after the two leaders’ summit in Beijing consisted of a five-point main statement and an annex. In regards to the Korean Peninsula issue, it stated, “The two countries agreed that the North’s nuclear development is a serious threat to the peace and stability of Northeast Asia, including the Korean Peninsula, and the global community.”

It also said, “The two sides reaffirmed that denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and maintaining the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula serve their mutual interests and agreed to work together to realize the goals.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se explained, “If you dissect the content, there are many hidden implications.” Some critics said the wording could have been stronger.

Analysts point out that if the upcoming joint communique includes wording explicitly expressing an “opposition to a fourth nuclear test by North Korea,” that will also send a high-pressure message to Pyongyang.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said to reporters on Tuesday that the nuclear issue would be an “important topic” during Xi’s talks with Park and that “the two leaders will exchange views on the issue [of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula], in particular, the early resumption of the six-party talks.”

“It has been proven that peaceful negotiation is the only way forward for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and peace and stability in northeast Asia,” said Liu. “Consensus on the issue will be reflected in the joint document between China and the Republic of Korea.”

Beijing has been a strong advocate of an early revival of six-party denuclearization talks among the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, which have been on hiatus since Pyongyang walked out in 2008.

“China holds the perspective that there is no need for the bar for talks to be held so high,” a high-level Korean foreign affairs official said. “While there is consensus that the process has to be carried through amongst all the six-party nations, there is still a gap in viewpoints.”

Other experts point out that Beijing may not want to aggravate Pyongyang too much as Xi’s visit to Seoul precedes a visit to North Korea.

Han Suk-hee, Chinese studies professor at Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Studies said, “In China’s perspective, this is the first time it is visiting South Korea first, so in order not to provoke North Korea too much, it will try to tone things down … on the North Korean nuclear issue, rather than a home-run, it’s likely that negotiations will yield a single-base hit.”

Analysts are also watching to see how the two leaders cooperate over the Japanese government’s recent actions.

The two leaders will naturally speak about Japan and how to counteract its attempts to distort history, Vice Minister Liu added, as Korea and China are victims of past Japanese militarism. But he said such discussions will not be revealed to the public.

BY YOO JEE-HYE, JUNG WON-YEOB [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]




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