Diplomats scramble to ask China to get tough

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Diplomats scramble to ask China to get tough

South Korea continued to urge China to rein in North Korea in a surge of meeting between senior diplomats and defense officials in Seoul and Beijing following last week’s nuclear test.

South Korea’s top nuclear envoy, Hwang Joon-kook, said ahead of talks with Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei on Thursday that he will “emphasize to the Chinese side the gravity of the situation and a need for a strong response from the international community.”

Hwang, the special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, told reporters at the airport in Beijing that he planned to “discuss a detailed plan for cooperation between our two countries.”

His Beijing visit is the first for a senior South Korean official since North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6.

In late 2008, Pyongyang walked away from talks to shut down its nuclear weapons program, which also included South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

Hwang’s talks with China’s longtime point man on the long-stalled six-party talks came a day after he met with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts in Seoul.

On Wednesday, Hwang met with Sung Kim, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, and Kimihiro Ishikane, director-general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, in a show of trilateral cooperation. They called for new, strong sanctions against North Korea for the Jan. 6 nuclear test.

Hwang said that any new sanctions had to be “different from those in the past,” to make Pyongyang pay for the nuclear test, which violates United Nations Security Council resolutions. Beijing’s approval is needed for any sanctions to be possible, and the Chinese government has remained noncommittal on the issue. It has also emphasized that China’s actions are not the key to solving the North Korean nuclear problem.

In a nationally televised address earlier on Wednesday, President Park Geun-hye urged China to live up to its word that it won’t tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea.

On Tuesday, Hwang will fly to Moscow to meet with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, enabling coordination of five participating nations in the six-party talks.

Russia is also a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council so its support is necessary for any sanctions on Pyongyang.

Shin Dong-ik, a deputy foreign minister for multilateral and global affairs, will head to New York Monday for a three-day visit, said the South’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He will talk with members of the UN Security Council on the drafting of a resolution condemning Pyongyang for the test.

In Seoul, South Korean and Chinese military authorities will hold an annual working-level policy meeting on Friday, during which defense officials here are expected to emphasize the need for cooperation to restrain Pyongyang’s nuclear provocations.

The South Korean delegation will be led by Yoon Soon-gu, director general of international policy at the Ministry of National Defense, while Rear Adm. Guan Youfei, director of foreign affairs at the Chinese Defense Ministry, leads Beijing’s delegation.

Despite Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei saying on Wednesday that the two countries remain in “close communication and coordination on the Korean nuclear issue,” China has proved hard to reach at crunch times, as was seen following last week’s nuclear test.

At the end of December, South Korea and China opened a direct hotline between their defense ministers. Defense Minister Han Min-koo had his first telephone conversation with his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan on New Years’ Eve to launch the hotline. It was proposed at a summit between President Park and Chinese President Xi Jinping in July 2014 and symbolized progress in bilateral defense exchanges.

But South Korean Defense Minister Han failed to get hold of his Chinese counterpart on the hotline after the Jan. 6 nuclear test. The Chinese Defense Ministry did not give an explanation.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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