China treats Park like its new best friend

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China treats Park like its new best friend

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Chinese President Xi Jinping, third from right, Russian President Vladimir Putin, fourth from right, and Korean President Park Geun-hye, fifth from right, give an ovation during a military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Beijing Thursday. [AP/NEWSIS]

BEIJING - President Park Geun-hye on Thursday watched the largest-ever military parade by China from a prominent spot near President Xi Jinping, a symbol that the South has replaced the North - at least for now - as China’s favorite Korea.

China hosted a series of lavish events to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, including a giant military parade at Tiananmen Square from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Thursday. Formally described as the “70th anniversary of Victory in the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War,” China invited world leaders to the event. Foreign militaries were invited to join the parade.

Throughout the ceremony, Beijing offered special treatment to Park to thank her for attending events skipped by leaders of most Western countries. On the observation deck at Tiananmen Square, Park was seated very prominently. Chinese President Xi Jinping was seated at the center of the front row, with Russian President Vladimir Putin to his right. Park sat next to Putin.

On Xi’s left side, a group of Chinese leaders including former Presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao were seated.

The seating order symbolized China’s attitude towards its neighbors. The treatment Park received as a foreign guest was comparable to the protocol Beijing used decades ago to receive North Korea’s late founder, Kim Il Sung.

In 1954, only one year after the Korean War armistice, China’s People’s Liberation Army held a military parade to mark the country’s foundation. Chairman Mao Zedong watched from the observation tower of Tiananmen Square. At the time, heads of North Korea and the Soviet Union were invited.

Russia was still treated as the most important guest of China. Nikita Khrushchev, first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, stood on Mao’s left side to watch the parade. But Kim Il Sung stood to the right of Mao.

At Thursday’s event, the seating order was similar to the event 61 years ago, with the one big difference that South Korea, one of China’s key economic partners, had replaced the North in the seat of honor.

Despite decades of a “blood alliance” between China and North Korea, the communist regime’s young ruler, Kim Jong-un, did not attend the event. Choe Ryong-hae, a senior Workers’ Party official, represented the North and was seated at the end of the front row to Xi’s right.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his wife attended the event, and they were given prominent seats. The couple was seated in the front row in the fifth and sixth seats to Xi’s right.

According to Blue House spokesman Min Kyung-wook, Xi gave a special directive to his protocol officers to provide very special treatment for Park, calling her “one of the most important guests.”

A separate team was created to receive Park, he added. The Blue House said Park was provided with an exclusive waiting room to rest between the commemoration ceremony and a luncheon on Thursday.

Before the ceremony, foreign guests took a group photo. At the time, Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, stood in the center. Putin stood next to Xi and Park next to Peng.

On their way to the observation deck in Tiananmen Square, Park walked on the left side of Xi and Putin on his right.

On Wednesday night, Xi and his wife hosted a lavish dinner to welcome the foreign guests. At the dinner, Putin and Park were seated next to each other. North Korea’s Choe also attended the dinner, but Min said Park and Choe had no chance to have any conversation. Park was seated at the head table, while Choe was not.

Throughout the two-day event, Park met with most of the foreign dignitaries, but no meeting took place with Choe, Min said.

The North Korean envoy’s trip to China was brief. He arrived in Beijing on a Chinese civilian airliner Wednesday afternoon and left for Pyongyang Thursday afternoon shortly after the commemoration event. As of Thursday evening, there was no news of whether Xi had a separate meeting with Choe.

Intelligence authorities and North Korea observers were highly interested in Choe’s trip to China and whether he could make any headway in improving strained relations between Pyongyang and Beijing. In 2013, North Korean leader Kim executed Jang Song-thaek, his powerful uncle, who was close to the Chinese leadership. Hyon Yong-chol, the North’s defense minister, was purged after a visit to Russia in April.

After Jang’s execution, analysts have said that Choe was perhaps the only person in the North who could restore the “blood alliance” between Beijing and Pyongyang.

As a special envoy of Kim, Choe visited China in May 2013 and met with Xi. At the time, he received icy treatment from the Chinese president in an apparent expression of disapproval of North Korea’s third nuclear test earlier that year.

“Now that China has secured South Korea’s trust, the process may start of restoring relations with the North,” Kim Young-soo, professor of political science of Sogang University, said.

After attending the Victory Day commemoration luncheon, Park left Beijing and arrived in Shanghai in the afternoon. It has been 10 years since she visited China’s second-largest city. In 2005, she visited Shanghai as chairwoman of the Grand National Party, now the Saenuri Party, at the invitation of the Communist Party of China.

Park will attend the reopening of the Republic of Korea’s provisional government building in Shanghai and a business forum today, and then return to Korea later in the day.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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