Chinese envoy to visit for talks on bilateral issues, North
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will make a two-day visit to Seoul next Tuesday and Wednesday for talks with his South Korean counterpart, Chung Eui-yong, on bilateral relations and the North Korea issue, Seoul's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced.
Foreign Minister Chung and Wang, also a Chinese state councilor, will hold bilateral talks next Wednesday and "exchange views on a wide range of issues of mutual interest, including bilateral relations between the two countries, the situation on the Korean Peninsula and regional and international issues," said Choi Young-sam, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, in a briefing Tuesday.
Amid continued Sino-U.S. tensions, there is a focus on what role China can bring to the table to get the North to return to denuclearization negotiations, especially as Pyongyang has been mum to Washington's offer for talks without conditions over the past several months.
The two sides could discuss engaging Pyongyang on the occasion of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics next February, including the possibility of another inter-Korean summit.
The Tokyo Olympics held in July had been considered as such an opportunity for engagement, but such anticipation fizzled with North Korea not participating in the Summer Games over Covid-19 concerns and South Korea and Japan failing to arrange a leaders' summit. This comes as some Western countries have been calling for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics to protest China's human rights issues.
Wang last visited Seoul in November last year. Chung and Wang previously held bilateral talks in Xiamen, China, in June.
Wang's trip comes ahead of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly opening next Tuesday. Both Koreas formally joined the United Nations 30 years ago on Sept. 17, 1991.
Sept. 19 will also mark the third anniversary of the summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the signing of the Pyongyang joint declaration of 2018.
Despite bellicose rhetoric threatening a "serious security crisis," North Korea did not conduct any notable military provocation during the Seoul-Washington summertime military exercise last month. However, Pyongyang may have restarted its main reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex in July after leaving it dormant for about two and a half years, according to a recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
North Korea appears to be preparing a major military parade this week to prepare for its founding anniversary Thursday, according to military sources. Such major parades are often occasions for Pyongyang to unveil its newest military assets or send a message to Seoul and Washington.
A diplomatic source here said that September to October "may be the optimal time to try to restart the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, and in fact, the last opportunity," as well as the last chance for Beijing to convince Pyongyang to return to talks.
Next year marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Seoul and Beijing.
Seoul's Foreign Ministry "hopes that this meeting will serve as an important opportunity to explore various ways for the future-oriented development of bilateral relations, ahead of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries next year," said Choi.
The two sides are expected to set up a bilateral committee to promote a year of South Korea-China cultural exchanges from 2021 to 2022 to mark the anniversary.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has said he will make a visit to South Korea once the Covid-19 situation improves to reciprocate Moon's trip to Beijing in December 2017, and such a trip could be another issue to be discussed between the ministers.
When asked about a visit by Beijing's top envoy to Seoul, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in a press briefing Monday that China and South Korea are "friendly close neighbors" and "have always maintained communication and exchange at various levels."
On recent reports that the UN Security Council is discussing easing sanctions on Pyongyang amid Covid-19 difficulties, spokesman Wang said, "China has consistently called on the Security Council to activate the provisions on modifying sanctions in DPRK-related resolutions as soon as possible in light of the developments of the situation on the Korean Peninsula and make necessary adjustments to the sanctions, especially those concerning people's livelihood."
DPRK is the acronym for the official name of North Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
He added, "This is in line with the spirit of the resolutions, will help ease the humanitarian situation and people's livelihood in the DPRK, and will also help create conditions for and inject impetus into the political settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue."
The Chinese envoy's visit comes amid speculation that South Korea may be asked to join the U.S.-led Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance involving the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee on Thursday passed a National Defense Authorization Act bill for fiscal year 2022 that seeks to expand the U.S.-led intelligence-sharing mechanism to include South Korea, Japan, India and Germany. The Five Eyes program dates back to U.S. and British intelligence cooperation during World War II and evolved during the Cold War era as a mechanism for monitoring the Soviet Union. An expansion of the exclusive Five Eyes network could be reflective of U.S. efforts to unite its allies to counter China's growing dominance in the Indo-Pacific region.
Japan, India and Australia are also a part of the U.S.-led Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, a security cooperation mechanism led by the United States and seen as a way to contain China.
Separately, the top nuclear envoys of South Korea, the United States and Japan are in the process of scheduling trilateral talks in Tokyo next week, reportedly to discuss humanitarian assistance to the North.
Noh Kyu-duk, Seoul's nuclear envoy, met with his U.S. counterpart Sung Kim twice in the past month, indicating close coordination during what is considered by Seoul to be a crucial window of time to bring Pyongyang back to dialogue. They last met trilaterally with their Japanese counterpart, Takehiro Funakoshi, in Seoul in June.
Spokesman Choi told reporters when asked about a trilateral meeting, "Our government is continuing efforts to communicate and cooperate closely with the international community, including the United States, to advance the peace process on the Korean Peninsula."
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]