South Korea, Japan United against North Korea
Sunday, 30 May 2010

South Korea and Japan on Saturday vowed to stand united against North Korea ahead of a regional summit likely to press China over its reluctance to taken on Pyongyang over the sinking of a South Korean ship.

Leaders of the three big northeast Asian powers are meeting in Seogwipo, a honeymoon resort on the South Korean island of Jeju, with the original intention of boosting plans for greater regional cooperation and economic integration.

Instead, the quarrel between North and South Korea has stolen the limelight. The two sides of the divided, heavily armed peninsula are in a deepening standoff after a South Korean warship was sunk in late March, killing 46 sailors, and Seoul has concluded that North Korea was responsible.

In talks over two days, South Korean President President Lee Myung-bak, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao are likely to dwell the dispute, which has opened a breach between China and its neighbours, both of whom back firm international action against Pyongyang.

At Hatoyama's suggestion, the three leaders observed a moment's silence for the dead sailors before starting their talks.

"North Korea's provocative actions are unforgivable," Hatoyama was quoted by a senior Japanese government official as telling Lee ahead of the main three-way summit. "Japan, along with the international community, is condemning such moves and strongly backs South Korea."

The mounting antagonism between the two Koreas has unnerved investors, worried the confrontation could erupt into conflict in this region holding the world's second and third biggest economies -- Japan and China.

Many analysts say that neither side is ready to go to war, but warn there could be more skirmishes, especially along their disputed sea border off the west coast.

China counts neighbouring North Korea as a friend and a buffer against the other, U.S.-allied neighbours. It has stayed away from condemning Pyongyang, saying it needs to consider the evidence and urging restraint on all sides.

Wen held to that position in a meeting with Lee on Friday, but he also said Beijing would not protect anyone found culpable for the sinking. In his opening remarks to the three-nation summit, Wen did not mention the Cheonan and struck an upbeat tone.

"I look forward to working with President Lee and Prime Minister Hatoyama to achieve solid results (at the meeting) and send a message to the world of confidence and hope in peace, stability and development (in the region)," said Wen.

Beijing's reticence makes for tricky diplomacy for Seoul, which will need China's backing or abstention from voting to secure a UN Security Council statement or resolution criticising North Korea over the sinking. As a permanent member of the Security Council, China can veto such actions.

The leaders of South Korea and Japan made a show on unity over that issue on Saturday.

"Hatoyama said he will take a leading role in international cooperation (against North over the Cheonan) and expressed strong will to back South Korea's position at the UN Security Council," said South Korea presidential aide Lee Dong-kwan after President Lee's meeting with the Japanese prime minister.

Hatoyama later told reporters: "We believe what North Korea did is an objective fact."

North Korea state media said on Saturday the United States blamed it for sinking the South Korean warship to "put China into an awkward position and keep hold on Japan and south Korea as its servants".

North Korea has said it will rip up military agreements with the South guaranteeing safety of cross-border exchanges and has reportedly put its military on combat readiness after Seoul said it would ban trade with the North and stop its commercial ships using South Korean waters.


Comments Add New
Write comment
  We don't publish your mail. See privacy policy.
Please input the anti-spam code that you can read in the image.