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(3rd LD) Wen says S. Korea misunderstands Beijing's stance on ship sinking

All Headlines 22:38 October 05, 2010

(ATTN: UPDATES with talks on G-20, Beijing-Tokyo territorial spat; RESTRUCTURES throughout)
By Lee Chi-dong

BRUSSELS, Oct. 5 (Yonhap) -- Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao sought Tuesday to dispel widespread concerns among South Koreans that Beijing is blindly siding with North Korea over the March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship, according to Seoul government officials.

The sinking that killed 46 sailors remains a thorn in inter-Korean relations, despite Seoul's decision to provide the flood-hit North with emergency aid and a deal to restart the reunion of separated families in both sides.

South Korea accuses the North of torpedoing the 1,200-ton Cheonan, but Pyongyang denies its responsibility and refuses to offer a formal apology. Many South Koreans believe North Korea is emboldened by China's strategic ambiguity on the matter.

"I had an impression that South Koreans have a bit of misunderstanding about China after the Cheonan incident," Wen told South Korean President Lee Myung-bak during a meeting on the sidelines of the 8th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit here, according to Lee's chief spokesman Hong Sang-pyo. Hong said their 40-minute meeting took place in a "serious and amicable mood."

The South Korean spokesman said Wen pointed out that Beijing has repeatedly condemned those who are responsible for the sinking, citing as an example its endorsement of a U.N. Security Council statement denouncing the attack.

The Chinese leader, however, did not directly mention North Korea in discussing the incident, according to Hong who serves as senior secretary for public affairs at the South Korean presidential office. The U.N. document issued in July also stopped short of asserting North Korea's responsibility apparently due to objection by China and Russia.

The South Korean president, for his part, stressed that Seoul cannot overlook the sinking, because such an incident should not recur, the secretary said.

Lee also said he views North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's frequent trips to China positively, Hong added. The North's highly reclusive leader who rarely steps out of the country traveled to China twice this year.

"It would be good for China to help North Korea actively push for reform and market opening for the improvement in inter-Korean relations," Lee was quoted by the spokesman as telling Wen.

Lee and Wen also discussed the territorial row between Beijing and Tokyo over a set of islands called Diaoyuai in China and Senkaku in Japan, Hong said.

The decades-long wrangle has deepened since the collision of a Chinese fishing boat with Japan's coast guard ships near the islands in September.

"China and Japan have different positions over the issue," Wen said, explaining about the discussions he held with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan the previous day, according to Hong. Wen said he and Kan agreed that their countries' strategic relations are in the interest of not only the two sides but also entire Asia.

Hong quoted the South Korean president as replying, "Cooperation among South Korea, China, Japan greatly influence the prosperity and stability of Northeast Asia and the world. In that sense, I hope the issue will be resolved smoothly."

Lee and Wen agreed to hold trilateral talks also involving the Japanese leader when they attend an annual meeting with Southeast Asian nations in Hanoi late this month.

On Seoul's plan to host a G-20 summit from Nov.11-12, the leaders pledged to cooperate closely for its success, Hong said.

Wen especially expressed hope that G-20 members will produce a deal on the proposed quota adjustment of the International Monetary Fund, saying emerging countries are interested in the issue, the secretary said.


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