Seoul dismisses China’s call for peace pact talksSeoul on Thursday brushed off Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s proposal to move forward with the denuclearization of North Korea in tandem with transitioning from an armistice to a peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula.
In his meeting Wednesday with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in Beijing, the foreign minister offered a new approach, encouraging the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula alongside efforts to officially end the 1950-53 Korean War and move toward a peace agreement.
On Wednesday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei further elaborated on Wang’s proposal, saying it was “to replace the armistice mechanism on the Korean Peninsula with a peace regime and deliver long-term stability to Northeast Asia.”
“The purpose,” Hong continued, “is to address all parties’ major concerns in a balanced manner, lay down the objectives of dialogue and negotiations, and find a breakthrough to resume talks as soon as possible.”
He added that China believes “this approach is conducive to fundamentally addressing the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula” and that it would remain in close communication with all relevant parties of the six-party talks - a platform originally formed with the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia and the United States, with the aim of convincing Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
The talks, however, have been stalled since 2008, when North Korea walked away from negotiations.
Without directly acknowledging Wang’s position, the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday emphasized that its priorities were different from Beijing’s and that the North had to demonstrate it was ready to give up its nuclear weapons first.
“Our fundamental position is that the priority is for North Korea to halt its provocations and show sincerity toward denuclearization,” said Cho June-hyuck, a spokesman for the ministry. “The issue of establishing a peace regime can be discussed in an appropriate, separate forum in accordance with the Sept. 19 Joint Statement, following progress in denuclearization by the relevant parties,” Cho added, referring to the statement reached on Pyongyang’s nuclear disarmament on Sept. 19, 2005 among the members of the six-party talks.
He added that Seoul shared Beijing’s position that North Korea must discard its nuclear program was currently holding close strategic dialogue with China.
“We are closely cooperating for a strong sanctions resolution to be passed by the UN Security Council, and making joint efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue,” Cho said.
Beijing, however, has voiced strong objection to the placement of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) on the Korean Peninsula, emphasizing that the anti-missile defense battery violates “China’s strategic security interests,” according to its Foreign Ministry spokesman, who then demanded that relevant parties “drop this plan.”
After Pyongyang’s launched a long-range missile on Feb. 7, South Korea and the United States jointly announced that they would begin official discussions on the possible placement of a Thaad battery in South Korea.
China has consistently been wary of the defense system, which comes with a powerful radar capable of covering more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles).
Still, Beijing’s cooperation is needed in order for the UN Security Council to pass a “stronger than ever” sanctions resolution in response to North Korea’s fourth nuclear test and subsequent missile launch.
“China also shares with South Korea and the United States the large strategic goal that North Korea’s fourth nuclear test is unacceptable,” Cho Tae-yong, the deputy chief of the presidential National Security Office, reiterated Wednesday.
His comments followed his arrival in Washington on a four-day trip that includes talks with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House Deputy National Security Adviser Avril Haines.
Cho highlighted that the top goal between both countries would be to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development by “making North Korea change.”
“We already said it is an issue we need to deal with and have announced that we will begin official discussions on Thaad, so in the future the two countries defense officials will discuss it,” he said on talks with Washington in regard to a reporter’s question on the Thaad battery.
In an updated email on Thursday, Commander Bill Urban, a U.S. Department of Defense spokesman, said that the joint working group had not met and were still sorting out details prior to consultations.
Instead of a working group, he said, Korea and the United States are “‘expeditiously, but meticulously’ working through those details, so no timeline has been established.”
Defense Minister Han Min-koo added Thursday morning that the government would announce when official talks between the joint working groups begin.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]
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