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President Lee Suggests New Approach on N. Korea at Summit with China, Japan

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Leaders of South Korea, China and Japan discussed North Korea issues during annual summit talks held in Beijing on May 13, sharing the view that the U.N. Security Council issued a timely and fitting resolution to respond to the North's latest missile launch.

   North Korea was an important issue discussed at the summit between South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda during the annual talks that also covered regional economic cooperation and other security issues.

   During the summit, President Lee proposed closer cooperation among the three countries to study "more effective" and fresh measures to deter North Korean provocations. Lee did not elaborate.

   Despite the leaders' concerns about regional security, they did not produce any tangible agreement on North Korea and its provocative behavior.

   The three leaders agreed to launch official negotiations this year to forge an ambitious pact tearing down barriers to trade between the three of Asia's biggest economies.

   During the summit talks, the three countries also discussed how to handle North Korea's recent long-range missile firing and possible nuclear test. The communist regime headed by its new, young leader Kim Jong-un fired a long-range missile in April and speculation was also high that it was preparing for a third nuclear weapons test.

   President Lee took a step further and pressured Beijing to use its influence over Pyongyang to stop the regime's provocations.

   "I evaluate China's request to North Korea to pay special attention to the livelihoods of its people," Lee said. "I proposed that the time has come for us to find a new, more effective measure to restrain the North's provocations." Lee, however, did not say how China reacted to the statement.

   While the three leaders agreed their security priority is lowering the tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Wen showed a slightly different view toward the matter. "We should move beyond the Cold War way of thinking and resolve the issues with dialogue and negotiations," Wen said.

   The next day on May 14, South Korea, China and Japan adopted a joint declaration that sums up annual summit talks between their leaders held the previous day, but the document made no mention of North Korea and its provocative behavior.

   The omission of any clause on North Korea highlights the difference that the South and Japan have with China over how to deal with Pyongyang. Beijing, the North's last-remaining major ally that provides aid and diplomatic support, has been reluctant to openly criticize Pyongyang.

   The three sides had been expected to urge North Korea to refrain from further provocations after last month's long-range rocket launch amid concern the Pyongyang regime could attempt to further escalate tensions with a nuclear test, further missile launches or other provocations.

   The trilateral talks came a month after Pyongyang's long-range rocket on April 13. Though the rocket fizzled soon after takeoff, the liftoff drew international condemnation, as it broke a U.N. ban adopted over concerns such a launch could be used to develop missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

   Concerns have since grown that Pyongyang could stage additional provocations, such as a nuclear test, which would be its third, as well as more missile tests and border clashes. Officials in Seoul have said the North appears to have completed preparations for a nuclear test.

   "We exchanged views on the launch of North Korea's new leadership, its long-range rocket launch and related developments," Lee told the news conference in Beijing. "We appreciated the U.N. Security Council's strong and swift presidential statement (on the rocket launch) and discussed that additional provocations are unacceptable."

   Chinese Premier Wen, however, spoke in a softer tone during the news conference, calling for all sides to "abandon Cold War-style thinking" so as to resolve tensions and stressing the "most urgent issue for now is to prevent tensions on the Korean Peninsula."

   During the summit talks behind closed doors, however, Wen said that China has been strongly urging Pyongyang to refrain from additional provocations since last month's rocket launch, according to Kim Tae-hyo, a senior security aide to President Lee.

   Experts say China dreads any instability in North Korea, as it could hurt the country's economic and political interests.

   South Korea, China and Japan have held an annual three-way summit since 1999 on the sidelines of regional summits organized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Since 2008, the sides have also held another regular summit that rotates among the three countries, and the latest meeting was the fifth.

   Meanwhile, President Lee and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao agreed to cooperate on devising measures to address North Korea's jamming of satellite traffic navigation signals during their talks in Beijing on May 14.

   The leaders exchanged their views on the safety of passenger flight operations in South Korea, China and Japan, said Kim Tae-hyo.

   In recent weeks, hundreds of aircraft and ships in South Korea have been affected by Global Position System disruptions, which Seoul authorities claim were caused by the North's electric jamming waves. No serious damage has yet been caused by the jamming.

   North Korea topped the security agenda of the talks between Lee and Hu.
The two agreed to closely cooperate to effectively address the issue of North Korean provocations and smoothly resolve the issue of defectors from the North, whom Beijing has forcibly repatriated under a decades-old deal with Pyongyang.

   "Should North Korea possess a nuclear weapon and long-range missile, the dialogue between the two Koreas and between the North and China will enter a different phase," Lee was quoted by Kim as saying during the talks.

   Hu, in turn, expressed his opposition to Pyongyang's provocative moves. "China has an unequivocal position on its goal of denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. We oppose North Korea's nuclear test and a launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile," he was quoted by Kim as saying.

   Meanwhile, the leaders of South Korea, Japan and China failed on May 14 to mention North Korea in their joint statement following the three-way summit. A warning against further North Korean provocations had been expected.

   Seoul officials denied there were disagreements on the issue. "There were no significant differences in warning against North Korea's provocations. But due to sensitivity of the issue, it was not in the joint announcement," Kim Tae-hyo told reporters.

   Meanwhile, President Lee and Japanese Prime Minister Noda agreed that the international community should respond strongly to North Korean provocations to make Pyongyang understand it will pay a price for bad behavior.

   Lee and Noda reached the agreement on May 13 during a bilateral meeting in Beijing held on the sidelines of annual three-way summit talks.

   "The two leaders fully agreed that a nuclear test or additional provocations by North Korea are unacceptable and (the North) should be made to understand bad behavior brings consequences through stern responses by the U.N. Security Council and the international community," the presidential office said in a statement.

   South Korea and Japan cooperate closely over North Korea, but their relations have often frayed over issues stemming from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, such as Tokyo's sexual enslavement of Korean women for its troops during World War II.

   In the meeting, Noda said that the two countries should try to find a solution to thorny issues in a wise manner, but there were no specific discussions on such matters, South Korean officials said.