Park decides to go to Beijing for 70th anniversary

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Park decides to go to Beijing for 70th anniversary

President Park Geun-hye will make a three-day visit to China next month to attend Beijing’s celebration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the Blue House announced Thursday.

The decision was diplomatically delicate because the United States reportedly did not want Park’s attendance to be considered a sign of weakness in the two countries’ alliance.

Park has yet to make a decision on whether to attend a lavish military parade to be held on Sept. 3, which most Western leaders are not expected to attend amid China’s rising military profile.

Ju Chul-ki, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs, said Thursday, “President Park upon the invitation of President Xi Jinping will visit China from Sept. 2 to Sept. 4” to attend commemorative events held in Beijing on Sept. 3.

Ju added that it was not decided if Park will attend the military parade hosted on the same day. Over 10,000 troops are expected to march in the two-hour parade, which will pass through Tiananmen Square and showcase Beijing’s latest weapons and aerial displays.

“We are currently reviewing the details of the military parade,” Ju said. “We will make an announcement at the appropriate time.”

Ju said that Seoul and Beijing are “in consultation” over fine-tuning the details of Park’s upcoming visit, adding that a South Korea-China leaders’ summit is expected to be held.

Park will head to Shanghai the following day to attend a ceremony to reopen a renovated historic building that was used by Korea’s provisional government during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule over Korea, Ju added.

The Korean government-in-exile was formed on April 13, 1919, and was originally based in Shanghai, after the March 1st independence movement against Japan’s occupation earlier that year.

China has invited the leaders of some 50 countries to its 70th anniversary celebration, but few have responded though there are some 14 days left till the celebration.

Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed his attendance, as did other leaders of Shanghai Cooperation Organization member states, including the presidents of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

But many Western leaders have avoided an answer, and Park’s attendance is one of the few - if not only - U.S.-allied countries confirmed so far.

China’s Ministry of Defense said that the parade will be an international one, and confirmed in June that Russia and Mongolia will be sending troops to march with Chinese soldiers for the event.

Chinese media reported that soldiers from Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan will also take part in the parade.

Noh Kwang-il, spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a briefing Thursday, “The Sept. 3 event’s nature and significance, our history of the struggle for independence and the president’s schedule were all taken into consideration for a decision to be reached.”

He added that while plans for a summit were not decided yet, it could be expected that the two leaders will talk about “areas of mutual interest, including the North Korean nuclear problem and cooperation for peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia.”

The Blue House and Foreign Ministry in Seoul said it could not confirm whether North Korean leader Kim Jong-un or Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be in attendance.

Park’s decision comes after a Washington visit and summit with U.S. President Barack Obama was rescheduled for October last week.

Despite media reports that Washington pressured Park not to attend the celebration, South Korean officials claim that her hesitation was caused by the issue of whether Pyongyang will be taking part in the military parade, rather than pressure from the United States.

“What we are concerned about is not an image of the leaders of South Korea and China standing next to each other watching a military parade being transmitted to the international community,” said a government official here.

Some analysts have said that Park attending a military parade with China, a country that invaded South Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War, might not send the right impression about the U.S.-South Korea alliance.

“The problem is whether North Korean soldiers will participate in the parade in any way,” the government official said, “and what kind of weapons will be displayed.”

North Korea has not yet responded about whether it will be sending soldiers to join the military parade.

“It does not make sense for a South Korean leader to attend a military parade that the North Korean army partakes in in any way,” a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official in Seoul said.

“Until the composition of the troops participating in the military parade is finalized, it is not possible to decide on our participation.”

“This event is one that holds the historical context where Korea and China showed solidarity and fought against Japan,” another diplomatic source added.

“That is why the United States, while it cannot give an open-armed welcome, came up with its position that the South Korean government should make its own decision. And we have from an early stage pushed [for President Park] to attend.”

This trip will mark President Park’s third trip to China since her inauguration in February 2013.

Park made a state visit to China in June 2013, then attended an APEC leaders’ summit in Beijing last November.

“Going all way to China and not attending the military parade may seem contradictory, but it is natural for the government to take into consideration the North Korea factor,” said Choi Kang, vice president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “What can be gained from the South Korea-China leaders’ summit needs to be taken into consideration.”

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

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