Park faces U.S. flak over Beijing trip

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Park faces U.S. flak over Beijing trip

The Blue House denied a report that Washington is pressuring President Park Geun-hye to stay away from a commemoration by China of the end of World War II.

Blue House spokesman Min Kyung-wook said in a briefing in Seoul on Monday that President Park is in the process of “carefully reviewing” whether to attend the event being held in Beijing on Sept. 3.

“It is untrue that the United States requested Korea not to attend [China’s World War II event] through diplomatic channels,” he added.

Kyodo News reported Sunday that the White House told Seoul that Park’s attendance would send a wrong message to the world that Beijing has inserted a wedge in the U.S.-South Korea alliance, citing U.S. government and diplomatic sources.

China is celebrating the 70th anniversary of victory over Japan next month with events including a major military parade in Tiananmen Square. Over 50 world leaders have been invited, including the leaders of North and South Korea and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

According to Kyodo, President Barack Obama’s administration expressed its concerns through the U.S. Embassy in Seoul and other diplomatic channels.

However, both Washington and Seoul denied the report, and the Blue House maintains that no decision has been made on whether Park will go to Beijing.

The Blue House said the decision could be made as early as next week, factoring in overlapping events, such as Park’s upcoming address to mark the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule and division of the Korean Peninsula, and Prime Minister Abe’s upcoming statement to mark Japan’s defeat in World War II.

However, a diplomatic source in China who requested anonymity told the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, on Monday, “The United States conveyed to the Korean government last month that it is opposed to President Park attending the event. Washington added that if Korea needs to participate in the event, to send South Korean Ambassador to China Kim Jang-soo instead.”

The source added that Korea responded that it will make a decision “taking into consideration its alliance with the United States and its relationship with China.” Kim is already slated to attend an ambassadors’ event during that time frame, nonetheless.

Another China source added, “At that time, the United States expressed its position that a South Korean official attending China’s military parade can give a negative impression of the U.S.-South Korea alliance,” pointing out that it would seem like Seoul was siding with an enemy country from the 1950-53 Korean War.

Park turned down a similar invitation to attend a parade in Russia in May that celebrated Moscow’s victory over Nazi Germany. Many U.S. allies skipped that event.

Park canceled a U.S. trip and summit with President Obama in June to deal with the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome in the country.

A Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs official said Monday, “Under the current circumstances, there is a growing likelihood that President Park will decide to attend the victory day celebration [in Beijing].”

A high-ranking government official said it was a tricky decision. “It’s not a black and white choice,” he said. “However, we need to be aware of what areas the public is concerned about.”

The official continued, “President Park has to reschedule her U.S. trip and at the end of September, world leaders will gather for the United Nations General Assembly to mark the 70th anniversary of its founding. In October, we are pushing for a Korea-Japan-China leaders’ summit that Seoul will be hosting. Based on whether [President Park] will attend the China victory day celebration, the schedule of diplomatic affairs for the later half of this year can change.”

“In the long run, it will be beneficial for Korea to take the posture of being open to both the United States and China,” said China expert Kim Han-kwon, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

BY CHOI HYUNG-KYU, SARAH KIM AND YOO JEE-HYE [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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