At sixth summit, S. Korea and China ward off tensions on the peninsula

05-Sep-2015 Intellasia | The Hankyoreh | 7:40 AM Print This Post

President Park is apparently pushing for a trilateral summit with China and Japan, without no apparent enthusiasm from Beijing

During a summit at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sep. 2, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping stated that they oppose any activity that causes tensions on the Korean peninsula. This is being taken to mean opposition to a show of force by North Korea that could occur on October 10, the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean Workers’ Party.

Along with this, Park and Xi agreed to hold a trilateral summit with Japan in South Korea around the end of October or the beginning of November.

Though the meeting on Sep. 2 was the sixth summit between Park and Xi, it attracted more attention than any previous meeting. Since the meeting was the result of Park’s decision to defy American displeasure by becoming the only US ally to attend a Chinese military review commemorating the 70th anniversary of the victory over Japan in World War II, there were quiet expectations that the outcome of the meeting would live up to the boldness of her decision.

South Korean President Park Geun Hye (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, yesterday. Ms Park will be attending a parade in Beijing which marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Asia today.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

The press release provided by the Blue House on Wednesday detailing the results of the summit contains a number of phrases and agreements that are noticeably different from previous summits. China appears to have made an effort to accept South Korean demands to some extent. But there is also doubt that this will lead to a fundamental change in the areas of inter-Korean relations or the North Korean nuclear issue.

A mix of hopes and disappointment on the North Korean nuclear issue

In regard to relations on the Korean Peninsula, including the North Korean nuclear issue, the statement includes language that can be understood as a request for North Korea to refrain from launching a missile on October 10.

“Both sides emphasized that the Sep. 19 Joint Statement and the related resolutions by the UN Security Council should be faithfully implemented and in relation to this that they oppose any action whatsoever that increases tensions,” the press release said.

“In context, this can be understood as a request for North Korea not to carry out a nuclear test or to launch a missile,” said Kim Chang-soo, head of research at the Korea National Strategy Institute.

The two leaders also openly expressed support for the Trust-Building Process on the Korean Peninsula, the policy of the Park administration for North Korea. According to the press release, they said they hoped that the agreement reached on August 25 would be implemented through concrete action to accelerate the Trust-Building Process on the Korean Peninsula.

In regard to the six-party talks, the statement said, “Meaningful six-party talks should be reopened soon.” While the tone here is slightly different from the summit in July of last year – which referred to “efforts to achieve real progress in denuclearising the Korean Peninsula through meaningful talks” – this does not appear to represent significant progress.

One interesting point was the discussion of the unification of the Korean Peninsula. While South Korea emphasized “swift” unification through peaceful means, China supported peaceful unification “in the future.”

The press release reported that there was an in-depth discussion of the question of unification of the Korean Peninsula between the two leaders. No mention of this appeared in the Chinese statement, however.

Considering the use of the term “swift unification,” analysts suggest that Park may have argued for the need to prepare for unification, citing the possibility of instability in North Korea.

“It appears that Park provided information about the unstable situation in North Korea, and Xi repeated his standard position that he supports independent and peaceful unification,” Kim Chang-soo said.

During the summit in July of last year, China declined to express support for Park’s Dresden Declaration out of concern about North Korean sensitivity to discussion of “unification by absorption.”

The most noteworthy development is China’s agreement to resume the China-Japan-South Korea Trilateral Summit at the insistence of South Korea. The two sides agreed to propose holding the trilateral summit in South Korea in late October, early November, or some other time of mutual convenience.

China had refused to participate in the trilateral summit because of territorial and historical disagreements with Japan. China changed its attitude by agreeing to participate in this year’s summit, which is to be organised by South Korea, the country that is chairing the summit for the year.

In South Korea, the trilateral summit is regarded as an opportunity to reach a breakthrough in relations with Japan. While Park has refused to hold a summit with Japan because of the issue of the comfort women, she has continued to feel pressure from the US to restore relations with Japan.

With China and Japan seeking to normalise their relations and even holding bilateral summits on two occasions despite their disagreement, concerns have been raised that South Korea may find itself isolated in East Asian diplomacy. If a summit is held with the leaders of all three countries, however, Park will be able to engage in summit diplomacy with Japan as well while adhering to her stance of not holding a separate bilateral summit with Japan. This would also allow South Korea to present itself as leading trilateral cooperation.

But since the agreement to hold a trilateral summit did not appear in the Chinese statement, China may have reservations about the idea.

“Ultimately, the only way to see it is that China still doesn’t really want to hold a trilateral summit. Based on the statement that was released, South Korea appears to be pushing China,” said Kim Jae-cheol, a professor at the Catholic University of Korea.

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