Xi ‘firmly opposes’ nuclearized peninsula

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Xi ‘firmly opposes’ nuclearized peninsula

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Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, prepares to shake hands with Korean President Park Geun-hye at a joint press conference following their more than two-hour summit meeting in which they discussed North Korea’s nuclear program, six-party talks and regional security issues at the presidential office Blue House in Seoul yesterday. [Joint Press Corps]

In a summit at the Blue House yesterday, the leaders of South Korea and China expressed their clear opposition to nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and agreed to explore ways to relaunch the long-stalled six-party talks, making headway from their last summit in Beijing 11 months earlier.

A joint communique issued by President Park Geun-hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping after a summit meeting that lasted more than two hours - longer than the scheduled 90 minutes - showed both leaders firmly opposed to North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons.

Hwang Joon-kook, an official with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who is also a top envoy to the six-party talks that deal with Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons, told reporters that the wording against nuclear weapons includes disapproval of a fourth nuclear test that Pyongyang is known to be preparing for. The addition of “firm opposition” to nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula in a joint communique between Seoul and Beijing came for the first time.

“Both [South Korea and China] have supported the idea of making efforts to materialize visible progress in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through various meaningful conversations among chief negotiators to the six-party talks,” said Park in a joint press conference that followed the summit. “I believe President Xi’s visit to South Korea will send a clear message against North Korea’s nuclearization and for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”

She also said Xi’s trip will become a “crucial turning point” in bilateral relations.

In response, Xi said he supports the idea of both Koreas improving their ties to eventually realize “peaceful unification.”

The leaders did not take questions from reporters.

Park and Xi, who met for the fifth time since they both took office early last year, also reached a consensus on coming up with conditions for resuming the six-party talks after gathering opinions of the multilateral talks’ other participants, which are North Korea, the United States, Japan and Russia.

The communique comes 11 months after the two leaders unveiled a joint communique on a future vision for South Korea-China bilateral ties when Park made a state visit to the Chinese capital in June 2013. In the communique a year earlier, Park and Xi only agreed to work to restart the six-party talks to realize a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

Launched in 2003, the six-party talks technically have the goal of shutting down Pyongyang’s nuclear program, but they have evolved into a multilateral forum to discuss North Korean issues in general. The talks reached a stalemate after North Korea walked out in 2009.

China has stepped up efforts to resume the talks whereas South Korea and the United States say Pyongyang should first honor past commitments to dismantle its nuclear program. The Kim Jong-un regime, on the other hand, says it will only return to the talks if they are without preconditions.

“Beijing assenting to conditions for the relaunch of the six-party talks - after it previously said that conditions proposed by Seoul, Washington and Tokyo are overly unyielding - means Park and Xi had in-depth discussions to bridge the gap,” said Kim Han-kwon, director of the Center for China Policy at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, a private think tank.

“China also appears to have expressed the desire that South Korea play a mediator role between China and the United States and Japan,” he said.

Despite burgeoning diplomatic ties with Seoul and trade volumes that have grown by more than 35-fold in the past 20 years, China has continued to show loyalty to its traditional ally Pyongyang. Xi expressed displeasure over North Korea’s third nuclear test in February - done in defiance of Beijing’s warning not to - by opting to travel to the South ahead of the North yesterday, breaking a strict precedent set by his predecessors.

Despite Seoul’s desire for Xi to criticize Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s move to reinterpret the postwar pacifist Constitution to allow Japanese troops to defend allies under attack, he did not mention the issue at the summit.

In a commentary published in the JoongAng Ilbo a day earlier, however, Xi said that any action undermining regional stability will face opposition.

“No nation in the region would alone be safe from harm in case of upheaval,” he noted.

The two leaders ended up agreeing to have research institutes from both countries conduct a joint study on Japan’s trafficking of both Korean and Chinese women to Japanese military brothels across Asia before and during World War II and exchange copies of related documents.

The communique yesterday laid out the future direction of Seoul-Beijing relations in politics, security, future-oriented reciprocal cooperation and cultural and human resources exchange, vowing to establish a “mature strategic cooperative partnership” that will allow each party to discuss shared interests and mid- and long-term problems more closely and frequently based on mutual trust.

Under the accord, the leaders of both countries vowed to regularly visit each other, and top security officials from each side will have a routine “high-level strategic conversation.”

Following the summit, the two leaders signed 10 memoranda of understandings in regard to consular, cultural, environmental and financial affairs and agreed to step up efforts to finalize free trade agreement negotiations by the end of the year and to form a direct won-yuan trading market.

To encourage bilateral tourism and people-to-people exchanges, South Korea will designate 2015 as a “Visit China” year, whereas China will label 2016 a “Visit South Korea” year.

Xi thanked the Korean government and its people for a heartful welcome and invited Park to visit China again at a convenient time.

Park readily accepted the offer, although the two leaders are already slated to meet again in Beijing in November at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]


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