Seoul vows on peace and free-trade deal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2012, 12:00am


South Korean President Lee Myung-bak vowed yesterday to co-operate with China in maintaining stability across the Korean Peninsula and to push forward on the negotiation of a free-trade deal.

The pledges came at the start of his three-day trip to Beijing - the first high-level summit between the countries since the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il last month.

Lee's trip is aimed at improving ties between the nations as they approach the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations, but the recent developments in Pyongyang have become the focus of the talks.

'Within a short period of 20 years ... we have made rapid development in bilateral ties, which is something unprecedented in diplomatic history,' Lee told China's top lawmaker, Wu Bangguo . 'We have made achievements not only in the economic and trade arenas, but in all other spheres, too.'

In a separate meeting, President Hu Jintao told Lee that maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula was beneficial to all parties involved, and that China was willing to strengthen co-ordination with other parties.

The Yonhap News Agency quoted an unidentified official from Lee's office as saying that the two presidents pledged to 'work together for the sake of peace and stability'.

China, considered the chief ally of North Korea, has been urged by the international community to deter Pyongyang from taking provocative actions. The transition of power from Kim Jong-il to his son, Kim Jong-un, has raised concerns that Pyongyang may take radical action to consolidate its internal political order.

Lee also told Hu that Seoul would soon take steps towards formal negotiations with Beijing on forging a bilateral free-trade agreement, the unidentified official said, adding that the two sides may announce the start of formal trade talks in the first half of the year.

Beijing and Seoul are looking to start negotiations for a three-country free-trade agreement that includes Japan, as well as a separate deal between China and South Korea.

But the officials did not rule out a delay in negotiations because of local resistance.

Trade between the two reached US$224.8 billion in the first 11 months of last year, a 19.5 per cent increase from 2010.

The two presidents also pledged co-operation in resolving fisheries disputes. South Korea said the number of Chinese vessels caught illegally fishing in its waters increased from 370 in 2010 to at least 475 last year.

State media said Lee's visit, coupled with negotiations over the free-trade deal, could serve to counter mutual distrust.

Zhang Liangui, a Korean affairs expert at the Central Party School, wrote in a commentary in the People's Daily overseas edition: 'Some people are not used to the fast development of China. On one hand, they want to reap the benefit of such development, but on the other hand, they also fear they will lose something to China.' However, in a separate interview with the Global Times, Zhang said he doubted how much China could do in terms of exerting a strong influence on Pyongyang.