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(News Focus) Summits send unequivocal message against N.K. nukes, provocations: analysts

All Headlines 12:11 April 01, 2016

By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, April 1 (Yonhap) -- Back-to-back summits that South Korea held with the leaders of the United States, China and Japan this week sent an unequivocal message to North Korea that its nuclear adventurism would only trigger harsher sanctions and pressure even from its ally Beijing, analysts here said Friday.

On the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on Thursday, President Park Geun-hye held talks with U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, all of which focused on joint efforts to pressure a defiant Pyongyang to end its nuclear program through international and unilateral sanctions.

Analysts said that the summits offered a crucial opportunity for the countries to narrow their differences over their approaches toward Pyongyang and fine-tune details over the enforcement of the sanctions that the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) adopted last month to punish the North for its nuclear test in January and long-range rocket launch in February.

"It is meaningful that the leaders coordinated their stances through these summits and presented their unity against the North's nuclear development," Chung Sung-yoon, a researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said, noting there were subtle differences in their approaches toward the recalcitrant regime.

"When dealing with the North, a united voice with a common -- or shared -- objective is crucial given that any cacophony among the players enforcing sanctions could send a confusing message to the North," he added.

Seoul and Washington have recently showed a nuanced difference in their handling of the provocative communist state, observers pointed out.

During a meeting with local Christian leaders earlier this month, Park pledged to make continued efforts to make the North abandon its nuclear program and "stop the tyranny" that suppresses the freedom and human rights of North Koreans.

Her remarks have spawned speculation that the Seoul government might pursue the denuclearization of the North through a regime change.

But U.S. Ambassador to the South Mark Lippert said early this month, "Our policy is not a regime change." He said Washington remains committed to a "diplomatic solution" to the North Korean problem.

At the trilateral summit involving the leaders of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, the message against Pyongyang's nuclear program was very clear as all parties reiterated the need to ramp up three-way security cooperation.

"We agreed during this meeting that trilateral security cooperation is essential to maintaining peace and stability in Northeast Asia, deterring the North Korean nuclear and the potential of nuclear proliferation as a consequence of North Korean activities," Obama said after the trilateral summit.

But the issue of trilateral security cooperation, the centerpiece of Washington's strategic refocus on the Asia-Pacific region, might have unnerved Beijing, which has long suspected that the defense collaboration is aimed at countering its growing military heft, analysts said.

Park Won-gon, security expert at Handong Global University, cautioned that the triangular security cooperation could pose a hurdle to encouraging Beijing to faithfully implement the UNSC sanctions.

China has been regarded as the most crucial player in the enforcement of the sanctions given the sheer size of its trade and exchanges with the North. Two-way trade accounts for more than 90 percent of Pyongyang's aggregate trade.

"What matters is to highlight the solidarity of the international community, including China, in pressuring Pyongyang to renounce its nukes," he said. "But the scene of the U.S. and its two core Asian allies pushing for their exclusive collaboration may not be helpful in strengthening collective efforts in the anti-Pyongyang campaign."

However, Nam Chang-hee, international politics professor at Inha University, put the three-way security cooperation in a positive light. He said that in the upshot, the cooperation, focusing wholly on the North, would help encourage China to play a "responsible" role in reining in its wayward ally.

"South Korea, the U.S. and Japan can work together to lead China to become a responsible stakeholder that plays a constructive role in promoting stability here on the Korean Peninsula," he said.

"The three-way cooperation for now is aimed at deterring the North -- not at militarily encircling China. In this respect, China cannot help but join the efforts by the three nations to cope with the evolving threats from the North."

Portraying the summit among the South, the U.S. and Japan as an effective institution to deter Pyongyang and promote regional stability, Nam noted the possibility that the talks can be held on a permanent basis.

Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo have their annual summit forum, which was last held in November. But what was initiated as a regular summit in 2008 had been stalled since 2012 due to long-festering historical and territorial feuds that have aggravated mutual distrust to the detriment of regional stability.

As expected, Park's summit with Chinese leader Xi focused on Pyongyang's denuclearization, with Park calling on China to play an "active" role in addressing the issue and other North Korea-related matters.

The meeting was the seventh between Park and Xi, which Seoul's Foreign Ministry said was "testimony" to South Korea and China enjoying their closest relationship ever.

In the face of strong demands from Seoul and Washington, Beijing has appeared increasingly cooperative in putting pressure on Pyongyang, despite its fears that inordinate pressure on the impoverished state could lead to its implosion and trigger a raft of humanitarian and security crises including the influx of refugees into China.

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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