In Beijing, heavy lifting was done in bilaterals
What is seen is not always what goes on behind the scenes, as shown in the complicated diplomacy conducted in Beijing on the sidelines of the APEC summit, especially in a series of bilateral talks between the leaders’ of Japan, China and Korea.
President Park Geun-hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping effectively concluded a Korea-China free trade agreement during their summit on Monday and vowed to cooperate in encouraging North Korea to make a strategic choice to give up its nuclear program.
But despite the appearance of a unified front, a closer look shows a deviation in their messages in regards to the North.
Ju Chul-ki, Blue House senior secretary for foreign affairs, said, “President Xi Jinping reaffirmed clearly opposition to North Korea’s nuclear program and both countries’ leaders agreed to bolster efforts to induce North Korea to make a strategic choice to give up nuclear weapons.”
But the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s homepage emphasized that Xi “with a flexible position” hoped for the resumption of the six-party talks meant to denuclearize the North.
The talks among the U.S., China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas broke down after Pyongyang walked out in late 2008.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry further said that President Park replied that conditions favorable for the resumption of the six party talks will be created.
Seoul left out any mention of the six-party talks while Beijing left out comments on “opposition to the North Korean nuclear program.”
Despite the reported close bond between the leaders, on sensitive political issues, their interpretations often do not line up.
The issue of Korea’s participation in the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is another one that showed a discrepancy between the two sides.
The AIIB is envisioned as a new financial institution to rival the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, which are dominated by Western countries and Japan, with the aim to create a new financial order centered on China.
Korea has been hesitant to join the bank, despite Beijing’s strong encouragement, because it could put a damper on its alliance with the U.S. Washington has expressed concerns that China will use the bank for political purposes.
Ju said that Park will “continue close communication on the issue.”
But Beijing said, “President Park will actively review participation in the AIIB.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Xi held icebreaking talks for the first time since they took office on the same day and were even pictured awkwardly shaking hands and avoiding each other’s gazes.
The first face-to-face talks were anticipated to signal a possible thaw in the tense bilateral relations.
Abe held a press conference afterwards and his ease suggested that progress was made behind the scenes.
China and Japan released a joint four-point agreement of principles last Friday to develop mutual trust, face history and look to the future, recognize territorial issues existing between the two countries, and gradually resume political, diplomatic and security dialogues.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry posted on its English website a breakdown of Xi’s talks with Abe and said that the Chinese leader repeatedly touched on historical issues.
The ministry said that Xi “stressed that the issue of history bears on the national sentiment of the over 1.3 billion Chinese people, as well as overall peace, stability and development of the region.” He also reminded Abe to honor the Murayama Statement of 1995 apologizing for Japan’s war aggressions.
It also added Beijing hopes that “the Japanese side would properly handle relevant issues in strict accordance” with the four-point principled agreement.
Abe told reporters after the meeting, “Japan and China took the first step toward improving our relationship as we go back to the principle of mutually beneficial strategic relations.”
“In a situation where historical and territorial tensions continues,” said Cho Yang Hyun, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, “this shows an intention to move forward.”
Xi said in his summit with Park that trilateral foreign ministerial talks among Korea, China and Japan need to be held before the year ends, a departure from Beijing’s past ambivalence towards Tokyo.
Park and Abe also talked for the first time since the March trilateral meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in The Hague with Park focusing on the unsolved issue of Japanese military’s sexual enslavement of women during its colonial rule of Korea.
BY YOO JEE-HYE, SARAH KIM [email@example.com]