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2008/08/28 11:03 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 18 (August 28, 2008)

   *** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

Leaders of S. Korea, China Affirm Joint Efforts for Denuclearizing N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- One day after the Beijing Olympics closed, Chinese President Hu Jintao flew to Seoul on Aug. 25 to hold summit talks with his counterpart South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on major bilateral issues.

   The third summit meeting between Lee and Hu marked a new milestone in bilateral relations, as the leaders agreed on a number of specific action plans to follow up on their countries' strategic cooperative partnership.

   The two leaders also called for the prompt implementation of a six-party agreement to end the North's nuclear weapons programs and reconfirmed their previous commitment to making joint efforts towards denuclearizing the communist North.

   Hu promised to play a constructive role in the process of reconciliation and cooperation between the two Koreas and expressed support for Lee's policy to promote co-existence and co-prosperity with the North.

   On the North's nuclear weapons programs, they promised to closely cooperate to advance the six-party process, which has been deadlocked over how to verify the North's declaration of its arms programs. Hu also said, "The two sides agreed to make efforts with each of the other parties so that second-phase actions will be implemented in a comprehensive and balanced manner and the six-party talks will move into the next stage."

   "President Hu and I reaffirmed the principle that the two countries will help realize the denuclearization of North Korea through the six-party talks," Lee said at a joint press conference.

   "We agreed to step up efforts to help implement the second-phase measures required to fulfil the September 19 Joint Statement. Upon completion of the second phase, we should be able to launch consultations as soon as possible to come up with action plans for the next phase."

   South and North Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan are members of the six-way forum negotiating the disablement, and ultimately dismantlement, of Pyongyang's atomic arsenal.

   In reply, Hu said that China wants the two Koreas to maintain momentum for reconciliation and cooperation, indicating that China will be ready to more actively play a mediating role in the nuclear dispute following its successful hosting of the Summer Olympics.

   Accordingly, China is expected to contact the U.S. and North Korea to persuade them to eliminate the remaining barriers to entering the third phase of the denuclearization agreement. In this regard, some diplomats in Seoul forecast that Hu may soon dispatch an envoy to Pyongyang to persuade the North Korean leadership to accept U.S. terms for resuming the six-party talks.

   But on the very next day on Aug. 26, North Korea announced that it had stopped disabling its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon and threatened to restore facilities that the country has used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Pyongyang's announcement came in response, it stated, to Washington's delay in removing it from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

   In addition, Lee called Hu's attention to the human rights of North Korean defectors. During an hour-and-a half's talks, Lee urged China not to forcefully repatriate North Korean defectors to their homeland against their will in consideration of their human rights, the presidential office, Cheong Wa Dae, said.

   China does not recognize the North Koreans as refugees and sends them back to the country, where they face severe punishment, according to human rights activists. Beijing intensified its crackdown on them ahead of the Olympics Games, activists said.

   Before the summit, tens of North Korean defectors and activists protested in downtown Seoul, demanding Beijing stop repatriation and grant refugee status to North Koreans. "The Chinese government repatriates them, knowing very well how they will be treated in the North," said Han Chang-kweon, chairman of the Association of North Korean Defectors and a defector himself who came to Seoul in 1994, during the rally.

   China, a key ally of North Korea, has been seeking closer security ties with Seoul, as part of its effort to increase its influence in Northeast Asia. According to their joint statement, the two countries will launch a high-level strategic dialogue between their Foreign Ministries this year, to discuss bilateral, regional and international issues.

   Lee asked for the Chinese leader's assistance in gaining the release of South Korean prisoners of war still held captive in North Korea, said the office.

   In relation to chilly inter-Korean relations, Lee also asked Hu to play a constructive role in forcing North Korea to resume dialogue with South Korea, saying that the Seoul government is strongly determined to improve the tense inter-Korean relations despite the recent shooting death of a South Korean tourist in the communist North.

   "The two Koreas share common things in some policies, and thus there seems to be enough room for them to resolve their bilateral problems through dialogue," Hu responded, promising to play a constructive role in inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation.

   Lee and Hu previously met twice since the South Korean leader took office in February. During their first summit in Beijing in late May, Lee and Hu agreed to upgrade Seoul-Beijing relations from a "comprehensive cooperative partnership" to a "strategic cooperative partnership." The two leaders met again on Aug. 9 in Beijing, after Lee attended the opening ceremony of the 29th Summer Olympics there.

   Lee and Hu also agreed after their third summit to open the first high-level strategic dialogue between the foreign ministries of the two countries this year and stimulate exchange visits between ranking defense officials. "South Korea and China agreed to reinforce mutual communication on external policies and international affairs through regular dialogue channels between their top diplomats and defense officials," said the joint statement.

   At the beginning of their summit, Lee said that Hu's visit to South Korea was particularly meaningful as Aug. 24 marked the 16th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Seoul and Beijing.

   A joint statement issued after the summit called for the widening of bilateral cooperation far beyond the traditional economic and commercial fields to include political and security affairs.

   The agreement to open the first high-level strategic dialogue between the two countries' foreign ministries and expand personnel exchanges between their defense officials drew particularly strong attention in light of China's unique relationship with North Korea, diplomatic experts in Seoul said.