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North Korean Leader Kim Jong-il’s Visit to China [ 2010.05.14 ]

[NewsJapan.net] North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visited China from May 3 to 7 and held meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other officials. This was Kim’s first visit to China in about four years since January 2006, and it was also his first foreign trip since he reportedly suffered a stroke about two years ago.

Six-Party Talks at a Standstill

The six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear issue have been suspended since December 2008. Moreover, in response to a UN Security Council resolution condemning its missile launch test, in April 2009 North Korea announced that it would never take part in the six-party talks again. Pyongyang also has openly continued its nuclear weapons program, conducting a second nuclear test and, in violation of the UN Security Council resolution, announcing that it would start a uranium enrichment program. Since the beginning of this year North Korea has started to show a willingness to return to the six-party talks on condition that the economic sanctions are lifted, but no prospects for restarting the talks have yet emerged.

It was in these circumstances that a South Korean Navy patrol boat sank in the Yellow Sea at the end of March of this year, and the possibility of North Korea’s involvement has been reported. A joint international investigation team is currently looking into the cause of the incident. According to the Asahi Shimbun (May 6, evening edition), in the wake of that incident Japan, the United States, and South Korea have already started putting a distance between themselves and North Korea, and no prospects for any preliminary meeting for the six-party talks are in sight. If the investigation does reveal Pyongyang’s involvement, South Korea will raise the issue at the UN Security Council, which could be expected to further delay any restart of the talks.

China–North Korea Summit Produces No Concrete Results Toward Resumption of Six-Party Talks

Although Kim Jong-il’s visit to China attracted much attention, the media reported that the summit meeting with Chinese President Hu in Beijing on May 6 failed to achieve any breakthrough toward resuming the six-party talks. Regarding the summit, the Chinese government announced that Kim had stated that there was no change in North Korea’s stance of seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and that he intended to seek beneficial conditions with the other related countries in order to resume the talks. The announcement also stated that the two leaders went no further than agreeing that the six parties, while demonstrating their sincerity, should proactively exert efforts toward promoting the consultation process.

At a press conference on May 7, Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Katsuya Okada said it was good that the two leaders had made a reference to the six-party talks. However, Mr. Okada took a cautious stance on the early resumption of the talks, stating that it would be hard to advance the situation as long as the problem of the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel remained unclear and that, depending on the outcome of the investigation, the six-party talks might indeed be nowhere near being resumed.

Newspaper Editorials

In view of expectations for a restart of the six-party talks, which could lead to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the Japanese media devoted much attention to Kim Jong-il’s visit to China. All of the five national newspapers carried editorials on the matter.

In its editorial on May 5, the Yomiuri Shimbun pointed out, “Kim Jong-il’s aim in visiting China despite his poor physical condition was probably to obtain assistance and support from China in the economic and security fields.” The Yomiuri emphasized the role that China should play, as Pyongyang’s biggest supporter, in the denuclearization of North Korea, commenting, “As a core member of the nuclear nonproliferation regime, and as a permanent member of the Security Council, China has a special responsibility for strengthening the nonproliferation regime. North Korea is threatening global security, so we want China to deal with it resolutely.”

The Asahi editorial (May 9) commented critically about the China–North Korea summit meeting, “Concerning the nuclear issue, Kim said to President Hu Jintao ‘we maintain the goal of denuclearization,’ but he seems to have said nothing further. This does not indicate any change from his previous attitude of just talking about denuclearization without displaying any will for it.” The Asahi also emphasized China’s responsibility, saying, “North Korea’s dependence on China keeps on growing in terms of trade, energy, and food. In other words, North Korea’s very survival hinges on China. China is also responsible for nonproliferation and serves as the chair of the six-party talks. Even allowing for the fact that China does not want any drastic change to take place in the Korean Peninsula, since North Korea is not moving in the direction of denuclearization, we hope that China adopts a stricter attitude toward Pyongyang in economic assistance and other policies.”

The Mainichi Shimbun editorial (May 10) remarked, “If the investigation of the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel reveals the involvement of North Korea, the smooth reopening of the six-party talks will be impossible. The position of South Korea is particularly difficult. It is likely that developments afterwards might lead to extreme tension. Japan, the United States, and South Korea should remain united. It is also necessary to request China to fulfill its obligations as a major power. It is necessary to consider the possibility that China’s assistance to North Korea could weaken the UN resolution on sanctions.”

Requesting the Chinese government to make a cautious response, The Nikkei editorial (May 7) observed, “We can understand the efforts of China, the host country of the six-party talks, in urging North Korea to return to the talks, but it is inadvisable to keep on making easy concessions to North Korea just because China gives priority to the resumption of the talks.” It added, “We do not like the secret diplomacy between China and North Korea, either. No official announcement was made at all while Kim Jong-il was visiting China. That might well have been for security reasons, but if China gives special treatment to North Korea, which has not abandoned its nuclear ambitions, this will only lead to a sense of distrust in Chinese diplomacy.”

In its May 8 editorial, the Sankei Shimbun commented, “It has become very likely that North Korea was involved in the sinking of the South Korean patrol ship. Why did China accept Kim Jong-il’s visit at such a time? It’s very puzzling. It does not seem to have been in China’s national interest.” The Sankei added critically, “[At the summit] North Korea only declared that it wanted to seek beneficial conditions with the other countries. ‘Sincerity’ and ‘conditions’ clearly point to Pyongyang’s self-centered demands for a relaxation and lifting of the economic sanctions and the conclusion of a peace treaty with the United States to formally end the Korean War. China did not indicate any results that would lead to a resumption of the six-party talks.”

(Copyright 2010 Foreign Press Center, Japan)

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