Asian powers skirt N Korea issue

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2012, 12:00am


The leaders of China, Japan and South Korea issued a post-summit joint declaration yesterday that made no reference to North Korea's nuclear ambitions, and which avoided touchy issues such as territorial and historical disputes.

The delayed declaration came a day after the end of the fifth annual summit between Premier Wen Jiabao , Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Sunday.

Japanese and Korean media said the conspicuous absence of any reference to North Korea in the declaration was largely due to disagreements among the Asian powers over the wording on the contentious issue - a strong sign that Beijing was still unwilling to criticise its ally, Pyongyang.

However, the issue was apparently brought up again yesterday at a joint meeting between President Hu Jintao and South Korean and Japanese leaders, and at another meeting between Hu and Lee.

Citing Japanese officials, Kyodo News reported that Hu, Noda and Lee confirmed the importance of the three countries' close co-operation to avoid an escalation of tensions in the Korean Peninsula.

Hu promised that China would continue trying to convince North Korea not to act against the best interests of regional stability, according to Japan's deputy chief cabinet secretary, Tsuyoshi Saito.

Noda told Hu and Lee that the three countries 'share the view' that it is necessary for them to call on North Korea not to take provocative actions, Saito said.

South Korea's Yonhap News Agency also said Hu agreed to strengthen co-operation with its neighbours in effectively tackling acts of provocation by Pyongyang, such as a feared third nuclear test.

But Xinhua made no mention of North Korea in its coverage of the meetings yesterday.

Professor Pang Zhongying, an expert on international affairs at Renmin University, said Beijing was apparently caught in a dilemma over the handling of Pyongyang following the latter's failed rocket launch last month in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.

'Not mentioning North Korea was not surprising at all, considering China's ostrich policy on Pyongyang, including its concerns about angering its unruly communist ally and its worries about security threats from North Korea,' he said.

Although the one-day summit ended with a long-awaited agreement on starting negotiations by the end of this year for a trilateral free-trade pact, the issue was overshadowed by North Korea, and contentions between Beijing and Tokyo.

Highlighting recent tensions, Japanese officials were quoted by Kyodo as complaining that Hu refused to have a similar meeting with Noda like the one between Hu and Lee.

Beijing and Tokyo are disputing the other's ownership of the Diaoyu Islands, known by Japan as the Senkaku Islands, in the East China Sea, among other issues.