President calls on China to help curb Pyongyang

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President calls on China to help curb Pyongyang

President Park Geun-hye on Friday called on China to play a more active role in reining in North Korea after the regime’s latest nuclear test and emphasized the importance of creating an environment in which Pyongyang has no choice but to give up its nuclear program.

During an annual policy meeting, the president reiterated calls for tougher sanctions on Pyongyang and pledged to resolve the issues resulting from North Korea’s fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6, which the regime boasted was a hydrogen bomb explosion.

The annual gathering at the Blue House was attended by the ministers of foreign affairs, unification and defense, all of whom presented yearly policy guidelines on how to deal with Pyongyang.

“To resolve this matter, we need to forge an environment in which the North has no other option but to give up its nuclear programs,” Park said. “In that regard, China’s cooperation will be an important element.”

She added that she hoped China would play an effective role in convincing the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions and come out of isolation, pointing to Washington’s recent lifting of sanctions on Iran following a landmark nuclear deal finalized last year.

As North Korea’s long-time ally, Beijing exerts significant sway over Pyongyang and accounts for than 90 percent of its foreign trade. Since the regime’s most recent nuclear test, the Park government has rallied China to punish North Korea by reducing or eliminating aid projects and economic trade.

But while Seoul has continued to push Beijing to impose further sanctions, those efforts have so far yielded little to no results.

Though Beijing has firmly expressed opposition to Pyongyang conducting any nuclear tests, China is unlikely to break ties with North Korea despite recent provocations.

Seoul and Washington’s pleas to Beijing to leverage economic pressure on Pyongyang are hampered by the reality that North Korea could likely collapse in the absence of aid from China, leading to an influx of millions of North Korean refugees.

It is also possible that a rising China may be hesitant to impose further sanctions, and may instead find it more prudent to use North Korea as a bulwark against South Korea and the United States.

On Friday, Park also proposed that the five remaining members of the former six-party talks meet to discuss ways to persuade North Korea to scrap its nuclear program.

The six-party talks were originally formed with the two Koreas, Japan, Russia, China and the United States, with the aim of convincing Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions and resolve security concerns on the Peninsula. The talks have been suspended since 2008, however, when North Korea pulled out of negotiations.

“We should find a diverse and creative approach to this issue, like holding five-party talks without North Korea,” she said.

However, her suggestion to exclude Pyongyang from multinational talks was rejected by Beijing just hours later, when Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei announced Friday during a regular press briefing that China “hopes to resume the six-party talks without delay in pursuing the denuclearization on the peninsula.”

He also stressed dialogue as the most fundamental approach to resolving a number of regional issues.

Regarding North Korea policy, Park indicated that her government would take a strong stance, sending the “persistent and direct” message to Pyongyang that its nuclear programs could never be tolerated.

Her remarks were echoed by Foreign Affairs Minister Yun Byung-se, who said Friday it was necessary to have a “zero-tolerance policy” when it came to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

The South Korean government has made it clear that Seoul will make no overtures unless Pyongyang demonstrates that it will cooperate in talks aimed at dismantling its weapons programs.

Ties between the two countries have rapidly deteriorated following North Korea’s fourth nuclear test and the prospect of rapprochement has further dimmed since Pyongyang was alleged to have appointed military hard-liner Kim Yong-chol to lead the Communist state’s South Korean affairs bureau.

But despite tough talk from the government, Seoul’s hands remain tied and it lacks the leverage to coax the North to the negotiation table.

All business activity with North Korea, with the exception of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, has been suspended since 2010, when South Korea imposed a series of sanctions in retaliation for North Korea’s sinking of the ROK Cheonan warship, which left 46 sailors dead.

The Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint venture park, remains the last vestige of the inter-Korean cooperation.

Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo told reporters Friday that the government would continue to run the complex in a stable manner and that it was not considering ceasing operations.

How the complex is managed in the aftermath the nuclear test is up to North Korea, he added.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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