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North Korea

China looking for a seat at the table for any end-of-war declaration, South Korean legislator says

National Assembly leader says Beijing also wants to diminish US influence in the Korean peninsula

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 September, 2018, 6:45am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 September, 2018, 11:39pm

While next week’s meeting in Pyongyang about denuclearisation is between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, China is still jostling for a seat at any further talks, according to a senior member of South Korea’s parliament.

Kang Seok-ho, the chairman of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, said that Beijing seeks to ensure it will not be left out of negotiations when it comes time to declare a formal end to the Korean war.

A statement by the leaders of the two Koreas after their talks in April said they would pursue a declaration of the war’s end either through trilateral negotiations with the US, or quadrilateral negotiations including China.

The statement thus raised questions about whether the two Koreas would prefer to involve the US more than China.

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“It is in China’s best interest to secure a seat at the end-of-the-war declaration discussion as China may want to use [the Korean peninsula situation] to check the power of the US in the region,” Kang told the South China Morning Post.

“North Korea is also very well aware of such interests of China and using them as leverage to bring China to the denuclearisation talks with the United States,” Kang said.

Last month, Kang met with Zhang Yesui, the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in China’s National People’s Congress, in Beijing.

Kang said that Zhang stressed the importance of China’s involvement in the declaration and that China has already proposed to the US a four-party end-of-war declaration, one that would include both Koreas, the US and China.

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The Korean war ended in 1953 after an armistice was signed – by China, the United Nations Command and North Korea – but no formal peace agreement was ever struck.

Kang said that Beijing’s main strategic priorities include countering American influence over the region and shielding its ally, North Korea, from being drawn into Washington’s orbit.

Beijing has also supported Pyongyang’s “action for action” approach, which would give China time to increase its business dealings with North Korea before the US becomes deeply involved with the North Korean economy.

Kim, who has visited China three times this year, recently signalled his interest in developing stronger economic ties with China by visiting North Korean industrial plants on the border with China.

Such manoeuvring by Kim may rattle the United States, which has equal concerns about limiting Beijing’s influence on the peninsula.

Kang said that Seoul is also monitoring China to see if it is easing its enforcement of sanctions against North Korea. He called on China to continue upholding the sanctions, and said that South Korea should also crack down against sanctions violations.

The Korea Customs Service (KCS) said in July that three South Korean companies had illegally imported North Korean coal that was trans-shipped at Russian ports, in violation of United Nations resolutions.

“The Moon administration has presented itself as a loophole of the UN sanction regime when ships piling North Korean coal have freely passed the South Korean territorial sea,” Kang said.

Kang, a member of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, added that the meeting next week between Moon and Kim must hammer out a specific series of steps towards denuclearisation. Issues of human rights and abductions must also be addressed, he added.

“The South and the North must sign an agreement – to report, verify, and dismantle – the North Korean nuclear materials and weapons at the summit next week,” he stressed. “Now that should be – and is – South Korean security’s top priority.”

“It is also necessary for South Korea to express a strong message to improve the human rights of North Korean people,” Kang said. “Besides, we have 517 South Korean abductees detained in North Korea. This should be dealt with the highest priority.”