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(News Focus) Xi to pursue finding balance between two Koreas

All Headlines 10:01 November 05, 2012

By Kim Young-gyo

HONG KONG, Nov. 5 (Yonhap) -- Xi Jinping, who is soon to replace incumbent Chinese President Hu Jintao, will likely aim at striking an appropriate balance between South Korea and North Korea and seeking no drastic change in the country's diplomatic policies toward the Korean Peninsula, experts said Monday.

A new generation of Chinese leaders headed by incumbent Vice President Xi Jinping is set to take over from the current ruling group during the Chinese Communist Party's 18th National Congress scheduled to start on Thursday.

Xi will take the position of General Secretary of the ruling party of the Chinese Community Party (CCP).

The once-in-a-decade leadership transition in China comes at a critical time as China's growing influence has been reshaping the geopolitical landscape.

With China both the largest economic parter of South Korea and the closest ally of North Korea, eyes are now turning toward how Xi and the incoming Chinese ruling elite will juggle its relationships with the two Koreas.

Wang Li, a professor of international affairs at Nankai University in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, expected Xi's priority and approach, in terms of foreign affairs, not to differ much from his predecessor -- to assure the peaceful rise of China.

Due to ongoing tension between China and Japan, most recently over a group of islets in the East China Sea, China needs to skillfully maintain its bilateral relations with both North and South Korea, the scholar said.

"On one hand, China will strengthen its overall relations with North Korea, as the latter's security and stability is key to the border areas of the Northeast region of China," Wang told Yonhap News Agency.

"On the other hand, China will work equally hard to promote mutual trust and close cooperation with South Korea in terms of both trade and diplomacy. Given that South Korea has also disputed with Japan over islands, China surely needs closer ties with South Korea."

Wang stressed, however, that the dilemma for China is how to balance good relations with both Koreas.

Belonging to the first generation of Chinese politicians born after the founding of communist China, Xi and most members of the new leadership are expected to follow the established line of China's foreign policy, which assures the security and territorial integrity of China, he explained.

"Due to the vicissitudes of the China-U.S. relations and the tension between China and Japan, a stable and strong North Korea is surely within the consideration of China's security needs and national interest," he said.

"Equally, in view of the important ties with South Korea, Beijing needs more initiatives to effectively persuade North Korea and South Korea to accommodate each other's interests and needs."

China's new leaders will need to find more efficient and practical ways to smartly exercise its necessary influence over North Korea in order to restrain young North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's behavior, he added.

Wang said the fundamental principle of China' policy toward the Korean Peninsula will be "upholding the security and stability of the peninsula but not jeopardizing Beijing's bilateral relations with either the North or the South."

"That has become the consensus among the political and intellectual elite in the rising China," he said.

Brian Bridges, a professor of Political Science at Hong Kong's Lingnan University, held a similar view, saying "trying to balance relations with both the South and the North will remain a hallmark of the new Chinese administration."

"Xi did make a speech a couple of years ago, in which he praised the Chinese soldiers who had participated in the patriotic Korean War, but after becoming leader he will probably not want to be seen as excessively favoring the North," he said.

China has been a long-time and the most reliable benefactor for the poverty-stricken North, and its soldiers fought beside those of the North against South Korean and United Nations forces, spearheaded by the United States, in the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in an armistice.

In the meantime, Xi and his colleagues will wish to keep the Korean Peninsula stable, Bridges said.

"This means, firstly, using the promise of an invitation to Kim Jong-un to visit Beijing as a card to be used to ensure that North Korea is discouraged from any new missile or nuclear test," he said.

"Secondly, a return to the six-party Talks will remain a stated objective, even if the new leadership expects no early resumption."

The multilateral talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear weapons program, involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan, have been dormant since late 2008.

Bridges also expected Xi and his colleagues to wait to see who wins the South Korean presidential election before making any significant gesture to the South. South Korea's upcoming presidential election is scheduled for Dec. 19.

Simon Shen, a professor of international relations at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, suggested it is yet too early to see clearly what stance China will take toward the Korean Peninsula, as the new Chinese leadership will take time to consolidate its power.

Shen said the recent cancellation of some high-level visits between China and North Korea indicates Beijing is waiting for the 18th National Congress to decide its next step.

"China would like to maintain sizable influence over North Korea, but if hardliners in the Politburo are gone, the focus would be on the economy instead of ideology," he said, referring to the central group of some 25 people who oversee the CCP.

"Thus, North Korea would be encouraged by China to further modernize and open its economy, as long as it doesn't compromise with its anti-U.S. stance."

Despite its own territorial dispute with South Korea, China would try to strengthen relations with South Korea in the future East Asian integration, so as to have more bargaining chips against Japan, he added.

Ieodo, which is located 149 kilometers southwest of Korea's southernmost island of Marado and 247 kilometers northeast of the nearest Chinese island of Tongdao, lies within the overlapping exclusive economic zones of South Korea and China. South Korea effectively controls Ieodo.

At the same time, China and Japan are at odds over the ownership of the islets in the East China Sea, called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, while South Korea's easternmost islet group of Dokdo is repeatedly claimed by Japan, which ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910 to 1945. Japan has recently experienced one of the worst chills in its ties with China and South Korea over these territorial issues.


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