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Park Says to Use China Visit to Ensure No Reward to N.K. for Bad Behavior

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on May 23 she plans to use her upcoming visit to China to enlist the help of North Korea's most important ally in making Pyongyang realize that its bad behavior will never be rewarded.

   Breaking North Korea's behavioral pattern of seeking economic and other concessions through provocations was one of the major points of agreement that Park reached during her first meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington earlier May.

   President Park Geun-hye is expected to visit China in late June for talks with President Xi Jinping.

   "Though China says it can't do everything alone, China still is a country that can exercise considerable influence" over North Korea, Park said during a meeting with American security experts. "I want to talk in such a direction so that (China) can actively exercise positive influence."

   Park stressed the cycle of the North wringing concessions through bad behavior must be broken.

   "If we are going to do that, the international community, including China, should speak to North Korea with one voice consistently that there cannot be any reward whatsoever for provocations ... and make North Korea realize the old pattern is not going to work," she said.

   Officials in Seoul said they are in talks with China to set up Park's trip for late June for a summit with Xi, where North Korea is expected to be a key topic. Beijing is considered the only country with any meaningful influence over Pyongyang as a key provider of economic assistance and diplomatic support.

   China is also South Korea's largest trading partner.

   In the May 23 meeting with the American security experts, Park also said that she plans to ask for Chinese support for her "Northeast Asia peace and cooperation initiative," a vision aimed at making the region fraught with history and territorial tensions more peaceful.

   The idea calls for the United States and other countries in the region to build trust in a step-by-step manner, first through non-political cooperation, such as terrorism prevention and atomic safety, before expanding cooperation to political and security matters.

   North Korea is welcome to take part in the process, Park said.

   "But even if North Korea does not want to participate, then other countries can keep building trust (among themselves), which I think then can work as considerable pressure on North Korea," she said.

   The American security experts were in Seoul for a security forum. They included John Hamre, president and CEO of Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Georgetown University professors Victor Cha and Michael Green.

   Park also used the meeting with them to take a swipe at Japan, stressing that Japanese political leaders should act in a more responsible manner without hurting any longer the heart of those who suffered under the country's aggression in the early 20th century.


North Korea May Deploy New Multiple Rocket Launchers This Year

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea may be able to deploy its new multiple rocket launchers within this year after test-firing short range missiles over the weekend, a senior Seoul official said on May 23.

   North Korea fired six rounds of short-range rockets from its east coast for three days from Saturday, putting a damper on hopes for inter-Korean talks to ease tensions after months of bellicose rhetoric from Pyongyang.

   With analysis currently underway, the transporter-erector-launchers (TEL) for the multiple rocket launchers were identified as having four launch tubes, an intelligence official said, asking for anonymity.

   "We are looking into whether the North made the four launch tubes for this test-firing," he said.

   Of the six rounds of rockets, which are estimated to have been 4-5 meters long, four flew about 150 kilometers, and two flew about 130km, the official said, adding all launchers have been removed from the North's east coast.

   Until now, the North was believed to have three kinds of multiple rocket launchers -- 107mm, 122mm and 240mm with a maximum range of about 60km.

   If deployed, the new launchers could threaten the entire Seoul metropolitan area, which is less than 50km from the border, and reach U.S. bases in Gyeonggi Province.

   Military officials in Seoul consider the new rocket launchers as a new security threat as they are difficult to detect until they are fired.

   In response to the growing missile and rocket threat from the North, South Korea is currently developing a new 230mm multiple rocket launch system (MLRS) with a range of 80km to replace its 130 MLRS fleet with the goal of completing the upgrade by later this year.

   Meanwhile, the North recently removed two Musudan intermediate missiles and seven Scud and Nodong missiles, which had been placed on its east coast in early April, according to military officials.

   "Two Musudan missiles are believed to have been transported to Pyongyang," a senior military official said. "Mobile launchers for the rest of seven missiles are believed to have returned to their nearby military units."


U.S. Cautious about Reports of N. Korea's Intent on Dialogue

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. government declined to bite on May 23 on the latest carrot offered up by North Korea, saying it needs more details on the reported overture.

   On a trip to Beijing, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's special envoy, Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, was quoted as saying his country is willing to take China's advice and resume joint talks with the U.S. and other nations.

   Choe made the remarks in a meeting with Liu Yunshan, the Chinese Communist Party's fifth-ranked leader, according to local media.

   Choe's comments may signal a significant change in North Korea's attitude. Pyongyang churned out ferocious military threats in March and April but tensions have eased in recent weeks.

   Still, the U.S. was cautious about the suggestion by the unpredictable and reclusive socialist nation.

   "I don't think we know enough one way or another to characterize it," State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.

   He said Choe's trip is under way and the U.S. has yet to receive an update from China on it. A day earlier, Ventrell said Beijing gave prior notice to Washington on Choe's visit.

   Ventrell stressed that North Korea knows what it has to do for the resumption of negotiations with the U.S.

   Washington has repeatedly called for Pyongyang to demonstrate its seriousness about denuclearization through actions, not words.

   The U.S. is also striving to boost cooperation among the five nations involved in the now-suspended six-way nuclear talks with North Korea. The other members are South Korea, Japan and Russia.

   "We're committed to keeping the five parties of the six-party process very much united and focused on denuclearization... our core goal in that regard," Ventrell said.

   Choe's visit to China is being closely watched amid expectations that Beijing may be able to broker talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

   Choe is one of the most influential North Korean officials in the Kim regime.

   "North Korea lauds China's enormous efforts to maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and push for a return to talks and consultations for the problems of the Korean peninsula, and is willing to accept China's suggestion to have talks with all parties," Choe told the Chinese official, according to China's state broadcast arm, CCTV.

   In Korea, the North on May 23 proposed a joint event with the South to mark the anniversary of the inter-Korean summit deal in 2000 on promoting cooperation and reconciliation between the two sides.

   The North has annually commemorated the June 15 signing of the agreement between the South's Kim Dae-jung and the North's Kim Jong-il, both now dead. In South Korea, civic groups have held separate events to mark the anniversary.


N. Korea's Fertilizer Imports from China Jump 3-fold in April

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's fertilizer imports from China jumped more than three-fold in April from a year earlier, a report showed on May 27, pointing to Pyongyang's efforts to increase agricultural produce.

   The North brought in 62,593 tons of Chinese fertilizer in April, 3.1 times more than 15,218 tons a year earlier, according to the report released by Kwon Tae-jin, an analyst at the Korea Rural Economic Institute.

   For the January-April period, the total fertilizer imports from China, the North's closest provider of resources, came to 92,384 tons, 3.2 times more than those shipped in for the same four months last year, according to the report based on data from the Korea International Trade Association.

   The sharp increase in fertilizer imports seems unexpected, given that China is imposing high-rate export customs in order to limit outbound shipments of Chinese fertilizer, Kwon said.

   "The increase this year shows that the North is putting top priority on boosting productivity in the agricultural sector as well as that the conditions for fertilizer production in the North Korea are in a bad shape," the analyst said.

   The report also showed that the North imported 25,850 tons of grains like rice and corn from China in April, only half of what it brought in from China a year earlier.


Growth of North Korean Trade Slows in 2012

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The growth of North Korea's exports and overall trade volume slowed down significantly last year, apparently due to international sanctions condemning its nuclear test and other provocations, Seoul's trade promotion agency said on May 29.

   According to the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, better known as KOTRA, North Korea's overall trade reached US$6.81 billion in 2012, growing 7.1 percent from a year earlier and reaching a record high since 1990 when such data began to be compiled.

   The growth, however, marked a sharp slowdown from a 51.3 percent on-year hike in 2011.

   "Such a significant slowdown of growth last year appears to have been caused by the fact that North Korea has only a limited number of export products and that sanctions by the international community continued," KOTRA said in a press release.

   The North's overall exports gained 3.3 percent on-year to $2.88 billion with imports surging 10.2 percent to $3.93 billion.

   Still, the North's trade relations with its communist ally China strengthened with the countries' bilateral trade reaching $6.01 billion, accounting for 88.3 percent of the North's overall trade in 2012.


S. Korea Asks China Not to Repatriate Nine N. Korean Defectors

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea has asked China not to repatriate nine North Korean defectors, who were sent back to China from Laos early this week, to their totalitarian homeland, a senior Seoul official said on May 29.

   The nine North Koreans, aged between 15 and 23, were deported to China, on May 27, after being rounded up by the Lao authorities on May 10, Seoul's foreign ministry officials have said. South Korea had asked Laos to send them to Seoul after they fled from their country to the Southeast Asian nation via China in April, but Laos rejected Seoul's plea.

   "Our government has asked the Chinese authorities not to repatriate the nine North Korean defectors to the North through various diplomatic channels," the official at Seoul's foreign ministry said on the condition of anonymity.

   The official denied an earlier media report that the North Korean defectors -- seven men and two women -- were repatriated to Pyongyang via an Air Koryo flight on Tuesday.

   "To my knowledge, the North Korean defectors are still believed to be in Beijing," the official said, adding that South Korea is trying to find their whereabouts in the Chinese capital.

   The North Koreans were flown from the Lao capital, Vientiane, to Kunming in southwest China on May 27, and they were believed to have "appropriate travel documents," according to the official.

   "Because they have appropriate travel documents, the Chinese authorities' involvement in this case may be limited," the official said.

   A South Korean couple who helped the North Koreans in Laos were released on Monday after being held with them and returned to Seoul on Wednesday, a Seoul government source said.

   "The (South) Korean couple were released on May 27 and arrived in Seoul this morning," the source said.

   The ministry has set up a task force, headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Kyung-soo, to handle the case, he said, adding that his government confirmed that they landed in China.

   Laos has become one of the major transit points for North Korean defectors, who flee their homeland through China with the aim of eventually entering South Korea.

   Tens of thousands of North Korean defectors are believed to be hiding in China, hoping to travel to Laos, Thailand or other Southeast Asian countries before resettling in South Korea, which is presently home to more than 25,000 North Korean defectors.

   North Korean defectors face harsh punishments and even execution after being repatriated from China, which does not recognize them as asylum seekers, according to defectors in South Korea and human rights activists.