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June 27, 2013

Seoul, Beijing Agree on Denuclearized Korean Peninsula

by VOA News

South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, agreed at a summit in Beijing Thursday to push for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
 
The South Korean leader arrived in Beijing Thursday for talks likely to be dominated by Pyongyang's nuclear program.
 
In a statement, Park said the two nations shared a common view on "denuclearizing North Korea, maintaining peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and resolving issues through dialogue and negotiations."
 
The visit marks the first formal discussions between the two leaders since both assumed power in their respective countries.
 
Wang Junsheng, research fellow at the National Institute of International Strategy of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, says that the summit provides China with an opportunity to show its appreciation for how Park's new administration has handled the issue of North Korea.
 
“During the recent crisis in the peninsula, South Korea has used restraint and reason in dealing with North Korea,” said Wang. “That is something that China appreciates.”
 
China, North Korea's most important ally and economic benefactor, has showed increasing frustration at Pyongyang's decision to go ahead with nuclear and missile tests, despite explicit restrictions imposed by the United Nations.
 
In response to Pyongyang's defying actions, China has backed U.N. sanctions against its northern neighbor and joined bilateral efforts with the United States to suspend all transactions with North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank.
 
Before leaving Seoul, Park said this summit is an attempt to “harden” the two countries' persuasive efforts to convince North Korea to denuclearize.
 
Dong Xiangrong, a researcher of Korean studies at the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Science says that China and South Korea share a “common aversion,” and that sentiment is informing their discussion over North Korea.
 
“China and South Korea are the countries that would suffer the most should there be a conflict in the peninsula or should North Korea develop nuclear weapons,” she said, “They both need to avoid conflict in the region, as well as a nuclear North Korea.”
 
But analysts say that differences between the two countries' positions might make it harder to finalize a common strategy.
 
“If we look at the official Chinese documents on denuclearization, what they mean is a denuclearization of the complete peninsula, not just North Korea,” she said, adding that, contrarily, South Korea is solely interested in preventing the North from developing nuclear weapons.
 
Another issue, Dong said, is unification.
 
“Both China and South Korea are trying to avoid war in the peninsula,” she said. “But China is deeply interested in preventing the collapse of the North, while South Korea will take every chance to put forth reunification.”
 
South Korea's alliance with the United States might also contribute to mistrust between the two Asian nations, analysts say.
 
“If the alliance between South Korea and the United States is excessively strengthened then China might feel like the alliance is targeting China itself,” said  Wang. “That would not be beneficial to peace and stability in the peninsula.”
 
A big entourage of 71 business leaders is accompanying Park's three day visit to China, underscoring the important role China plays in the South's economy.
 
Trade between the two countries has grown more than 30 times since 1992, when Beijing and Seoul established diplomatic relations, and is now worth around USD 200 billion a year.
 
The South Korean leader's visit comes as the two countries are engaged in free trade talks, with the sixth meeting scheduled next month in South Korea.
 
Wang said the push for trade agreements between Asian countries is partly a by-product of the economic situation in the West.
 
“In the short term, it is difficult for us to see a momentum of development in the economies of the United States and Europe,” he said. “South Korea especially attaches importance to China's economy.”
 
With free trade agreements, Wang said, the two economies can develop together and complement each other.
 
Park, a self-taught Mandarin speaker, has talked in the past about her interest in Chinese culture.
 
She is scheduled to give a lecture at a university in Beijing and will deliver part of her speech in Chinese.
 
Park will also visit the Northwestern city of Xi'an, where South Korean electric giant Samsung is investing $7 billion to build a high-tech factory.
 
Xi'an is also one of China's most ancient capitals.
 
Dong Xiangrong said that while the former South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, was all business when dealing with China, Park is emphasizing culture as a way to connect with both China's leaders and the Chinese people.
 
“The fact that she is visiting Xi'an might have included considerations that China and South Korea's cultures are similar,” she said. “It brings the two countries together with a sense of familiarity.”
 
Before reaching Xi'an, the South Korean leader is scheduled to meet with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, and Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on Friday in Beijing.
 
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.