By Shin Hyon-hee
South Korea and the U.S. will hold a summit on Oct. 16 to discuss their response to North Korea’s land mine provocation, its ongoing nuclear weapons development and other regional and global issues, the two countries said Friday.
The announcement came after President Park Geun-hye shelved her planned five-day trip in June to address the Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak at home.
“(The two leaders) will chart the expansion of our cooperation into new areas that will increasingly shape the relationship in the 21st century, such as environment, energy, space, health and cybersecurity,” the White House said in a statement.
“They will also discuss the current security situation on the Korean Peninsula in the face of the continued threats from North Korea.”
The rescheduled talks with U.S. President Barack Obama, their fourth since her swearing-in, are expected to center on North Korea issues.
Early this week, the allies blasted as a provocation and breach of the truce accord the Aug. 4 blast of land mines suspected to have been planted by the North on the southern side of the border fence, which nearly severed the legs of two South Korean Army staff sergeants.
Tension is further flaring up on the peninsula ahead of the Ulchi Freedom Guardian, the allies’ major joint annual drills slated for later this month. Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry on Friday urged its revocation, calling the program a “grave military provocation” and a sign of their hostile policy, and threatened to “take all necessary steps to deter the U.S.’ nuclear provocation.”
Another key factor is the growing possibilities that the Kim Jong-un regime may stage a provocation to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers’ Party on Oct. 10.
Defense Minister Han Min-koo has also warned of the possibility of a “strategic provocation” around the date, while Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said at a July seminar that the summit would result in a “crucial agreement” on North Korea.
“If the North indeed engages in a major provocation such as firing a long-range missile, the summit and its results will inevitably focus on displaying robust coordination and delivering a strong message to Pyongyang,” a senior Seoul official told The Korea Herald on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
“For Washington, however, it will be much about the increasingly multifaceted partnership on the world stage that we’ve demonstrated, such as during the Ebola epidemic.”
Also on the agenda are Northeast Asia issues including Seoul-Tokyo relations and a proposed trilateral summit between South Korea, China and Japan, in which Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Aug. 15 statement marking the 70th anniversary of its defeat in World War II will likely serve as a “watershed,” he added.
As the allies’ scheduled summit was unveiled relatively early, the possibility is rising further for Park’s participation in Beijing’s own celebration of the war anniversary on Sept. 3.
China invited Park, Kim, Obama, Abe and other world leaders. Though Park is likely to attend, Seoul’s perceived wait-and-see posture has raised speculation that Washington is piling veiled pressure on her not to go, which both sides have flatly denied as “preposterous.”
Park’s entire itinerary is still in the making but she may not visit other cities as initially planned for her June visit due to her tight schedule at home and overseas, the official noted.