South Korea

Kim's death shifts focus of S Korean leader's visit

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 January, 2012, 12:00am


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The visit to Beijing by the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, was originally intended to smooth bilateral relations as the two countries approach the 20th anniversary of their diplomatic ties, but the occasion may now also serve to help China continue its influence on the Korean Peninsula after the death of Kim Jong-il, according to analysts.

Lee will meet his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, chief legislator Wu Bangguo and Premier Wen Jiabao during his three-day visit, which begins today.

The Chinese foreign ministry said Beijing hoped Lee's visit would strengthen mutual trust, which would benefit peace, stability and development in the region.

China and South Korea are expected to share information concerning the latest developments in Pyongyang after Kim Jong-un rose to assume leadership of the North upon the death of his father Kim Jong-il last month.

Beijing has long been expected to deter Pyongyang from taking provocative actions, as China is regarded as the only country involved in six-party disarmament talks that has friendly relations with North Korea.

In Beijing's most direct show of support for Pyongyang, Hu sent congratulations to Kim Jong-un on his appointment as North Korea's supreme commander last week.

Dr Lee Tai-hwan, a senior fellow at Sejong Institute's Centre for China Studies near Seoul, said: 'Beijing does not want to communicate only with North Korea, but also with South Korea, to control the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

'It is important for China and South Korea to have access to high authorities on both sides in dealing with the situation.'

Zhu Feng, a professor of international studies at Peking University, said Lee might urge his Chinese counterparts to be considerate of Seoul's stance on Pyongyang, while Beijing might call on Seoul to support the resumption of the stalled six-party talks.

'The differences in the handling of North Korea has affected Sino-South Korea ties over the past decade and has resulted in mistrust between the two,' Zhu said.

He said the two sides would attempt to narrow the differences and stress the importance of stability in the region.

Yang Bojiang, a professor at the University of International Relations, said Lee was expected to call on Beijing to urge Pyongyang to 'behave well'.

He said Chinese leaders might suggest to Lee that Seoul make a gesture of goodwill, such as providing more aid to Pyongyang and establishing regular contact.

The talks might also focus on building mutual political trust and introducing free-trade agreements, as both countries seek to create a positive atmosphere ahead of the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties in August.

Beijing's support and backing of North Korea had long been an obstacle in Sino-South Korea ties. But the establishment of diplomatic relations with Seoul in 1992 marked a change in Beijing's policy towards the Korean Peninsula.

Bilateral exchanges were once limited to the economy and trade, but were raised to a co-operative partnership in 1998, and expanded to a strategic co-operative partnership 10 years later.

But ties are still affected by the North Korea issue, as well as by clashes over fishing resources in disputed exclusive economic zones.

Cui Zhiying , a Korean affairs specialist at Tongji University, said: 'Both sides will attempt to think from a broader perspective and build up political trust among themselves.'

Yang also said that Japan's participation in the negotiations for a new US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal might push Seoul and Beijing into discussions on a free-trade agreement among China, Japan and Korea, a deal that was first proposed in 2002.