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War of nerves brewing over N.K. approach

Seoul, Washington support five-party talks amid Beijing’s disapproval

A war of nerves appears to be brewing between the allies -- South Korea and the U.S. -- and China over their approach to North Korea, spawning concerns that any discord would hurt the ongoing efforts to adopt stringent sanctions for Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test.
President Park Geun-hye speaks during a New Year policy briefing on Friday. (Yonhap)
President Park Geun-hye speaks during a New Year policy briefing on Friday. (Yonhap)

Since President Park Geun-hye expressed skepticism over the efficacy of the long-stalled six-party talks and called for five-party talks -- excluding North Korea -- last Friday, the allies and China seem to be split with Beijing in favor of keeping the six-party format intact.

The talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia have not been held since late 2008. Park thus proposed exploring “various and creative ways” including holding the five-party talks to tackle the North’s nuclear conundrum, her aides said.

Washington has offered support for Park’s proposal for the five-party talks, while Beijing urged the early resumption of the six-party talks that it has hosted -- a move that observers say displayed its disapproval of the five-way formula.

“The United States supports President Park’s call for a five-party meeting. We believe coordination with the other parties would be a useful step in our ongoing efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula through credible and authentic negotiations,” a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Seoul said in a statement to the local media.

Amid Beijing’s apparent opposition, Seoul said that its proposal for the five-party talks does not mean dismantlement of the six-way dialogue, and that the five-way talks can be held within the six-party framework.

But Park’s call for the five-party talks is largely seen as part of her move to pressure Beijing to support the efforts to draw up a U.N. Security Council resolution entailing harsher anti-Pyongyang sanctions, and to exert more influence to curb the growth of Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

In recent weeks, Park has tacitly raised pressure on Beijing to use its leverage to persuade its wayward ally to renounce nuclear ambitions, stressing the importance of Beijing’s “active” role in addressing the issue.

To the chagrin of Seoul, Beijing has maintained a lukewarm position, calling on the concerned parties to show “caution and restraint” in handling what the reclusive regime claims to be a hydrogen bomb test.

Beijing’s stance has triggered criticism here of Park’s policy toward China, with some demanding that she reorient her policy toward China and put more stress on the importance of the security ally, the U.S. Detractors even called Seoul’s policy toward Beijing a failure.

Seoul’s Second Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul, however, said that it is inappropriate to evaluate the overall relations between Seoul and Beijing based on the latter’s response to the North’s nuclear test.

“The South Korea-China relations are something we should upgrade harmoniously as we upgrade the Korea-U.S. relations,” he said in a program on news channel YTN. “Even if we invest in the (South Korea-China) relations today, we will not reap our investments right away. We will invest in the relations on a consistent and long-term basis.”

Meanwhile, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se on Sunday afternoon held telephone talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to coordinate their response to the North’s nuclear test. Kerry is to visit Beijing on Wednesday for talks with senior Chinese officials over the test.

By Song Sang-ho (