BEIJING (Yonhap News) – South Korea's Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin requested China's cooperation for the safe return of South Korean prisoners of war (POWs) who are currently in China following their defection from North Korea where they had been held since their capture during the 1950-53 Korean War.
The request came at Kim's meeting with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping as the South Korean minister began a three-day trip here for talks with his Chinese counterpart, Liang Guanglie.
"I will be especially appreciative if China will allow the departure of five South Korean POWs and their families currently staying at South Korean consulates in Beijing and Shenyang out of humanitarian concerns," Kim was quoted as saying during his courtesy call on the vice president of China.
Xi said he will have the related offices keep close contacts with the South Korean government to continue discussing the issue, according to South Korean officials accompanying the defense minister.
Beijing normally allows South Korean POWs to return to South Korea, though it is said to deport any other North Korean defectors back to their communist homeland.
The South Korean minister also sought China's support in dealing with North Korea, following Pyongyang's two armed attacks against South Korea last year that led to the sinking of a warship, Cheonan, and shelling of South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island, killing a total of 50 people, including two civilians.
"Minister Kim told Vice President Xi that North Korea's sinking of the Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island left us with great wounds, and asked for China's role in keeping peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula," a defense ministry official said.
Xi said his country supports peace and stability as well as the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and that China has worked toward that end and will continue to do so, according to the official.
Seoul has repeatedly asked China, the North's biggest ally, to use its influence on Pyongyang to dissuade its communist neighbor from engaging in further provocations and developing nuclear weapons.
China hasn't categorically blamed North Korea for the attacks and has instead called for dialogue to resolve the situation, while South Korea and the U.S. have demanded a North Korean apology for its provocations.
Kim's trip to China will be highlighted Friday when he and Chinese Defense Minister Liang will discuss the North Korean issue and other regional security issues that will likely include strengthening bilateral defense cooperation between South Korea and China, according to South Korea's defense ministry.
The Kim-Liang meeting will be the eighth defense ministerial talks between the countries, the ministry said. Kim's trip also marks the first visit to China by a South Korean defense minister in two years and the first since the two deadly North Korean provocations last year.
The ministry also said the ministers will issue a joint press statement following their talks, which it said "will be an indication that the two countries share a common understanding on a range of issues."