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(4th LD) Park expresses gratitude for China's role in defusing tensions

All Headlines 15:57 September 02, 2015

(ATTN: UPDATES with comments by Xi)
By Kim Kwang-tae

BEIJING, Sept. 2 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye expressed gratitude Wednesday to her Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, for the constructive role Beijing has played in defusing heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Park made the comments at the start of her meeting with Xi in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, though she did not elaborate.

Cheong Wa Dae, South Korea's presidential office, did not provide any further details of the summit talks.

China is believed to have significant leverage over North Korea, which has long been dependent on Chinese diplomatic support and economic aid.

It was not immediately clear how China helped ease tensions sparked by a land mine attack last month blamed on North Korea.

The two Koreas produced a deal last week, under which North Korea expressed regret over the attack that maimed two South Korean soldiers.

In return, South Korea ended anti-Pyongyang broadcasts along the heavily fortified border seen by North Korea as an insult to the supreme dignity of its leader, Kim Jong-un.

But on Wednesday, North Korea said that its expression of "regret" does not equal an "apology" for the land mine incident, saying that South Korea is interpreting the meaning of the word to its own advantage.

Park and Xi also held a luncheon meeting following their summit in what South Korean officials describe as an unusual move that underscores China's special hospitality toward Park.

Park met with Xi soon after she touched down in Beijing for a trip meant to attend a high-profile ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of China's victory over Japan in World War II.

Xi expressed his gratitude to Park for visiting China for the celebrations as he highlighted Koreans and Chinese fought against Japan's aggressions.

Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910-45 and controlled much of China in the early part of the 20th century.

South Korea, China and Japan are key trade partners, but tensions still persist between South Korea and Japan and between China and Japan over territorial and other history-related issues.

Also Wednesday, Park is set to hold separate talks with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang on how to boost economic cooperation.

China fought on North Korea's side against South Korea and the U.S.-led U.N. forces in the 1950-53 Korean War but has been economically drawn to South Korea after establishing diplomatic relations in 1992.

China has overtaken the United States as South Korea's No. 1 trade partner in recent years. South Korea and China also signed a free trade agreement in June, though the deal has yet to be ratified by the respective legislatures of Seoul and Beijing.

Xi told Park that relations between South Korea and China have developed to their highest level.

On Thursday, Park plans to watch a massive military parade in Tiananmen Square that could showcase the growing military prowess of an assertive China.

Park's planned attendance has drawn some criticism that South Korea may be tilted toward China, but it represents Seoul's latest attempt to win Beijing's cooperation over North Korea's nuclear program.

"Some people will not like her presence at the military event, but the people who specialize in Northeast Asian politics and security understand why she needs to do that for domestic political reasons and South Korea's national interests," said Daniel Pinkston, a Korea expert at the International Crisis Group in Seoul.

Ju Chul-ki, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs, has said that South Korea expects, "China to play a role in resolving North Korea's nuclear issue."

North Korea has spurned international calls to abandon its nuclear program, viewing it as a powerful deterrent against what it claims is Washington's hostile policy against it.

South Korea has asked China to prod North Korea to rejoin the long-stalled talks on ending Pyongyang's nuclear program.


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