China, North Korea meet amid tensions
By Kim Young-jin
China and North Korea held high-level talks to discuss issues of regional concern, Saturday, amid tensions over Pyongyang’s failed rocket launch.
The meeting came a day after President Lee Myung-bak warned that the North’s continued recalcitrance could fundamentally change the security situation in Northeast Asia, pushing Seoul and Beijing closer while Pyongyang becomes more isolated.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported that Wang Jiarui, the head of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's International Department, met Kim Yong-il, the Korean Workers' Party director of international affairs, for "strategic" talks.
The sides “exchanged views on developing exchanges and cooperation” and “on developments on the Korean peninsula, and on other international and regional issues of common concern," Xinhua reported.
The meeting came after China, the North’s key ally, backed a U.N. Security Council presidential statement deploring the April 13 launch, which was seen as a ballistic missile test.
Pyongyang claimed the launch meant to put a satellite into orbit in celebration of the 100th birth anniversary of its founder Kim Il-sung, but the rocket broke apart shortly after liftoff.
A flurry of unconfirmed reports hinted at signs of movement between the sides over the provocative move.
The Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun said China had suspended its repatriation of North Korean defectors in response to Pyongyang’s failure to alert Beijing before launching the rocket.
Another Japanese report said former Chinese foreign minister Li Zhaoxin had been denied entrance to the North celebrations for its late founder amid tension over the launch, which came two days before.
Concerns are rising over the North, which analysts say is working to develop long-range nuclear capabilities in a bid to bolster its military might and deterrence capabilities under its untested leader Kim Jong-un.
Some predict the North could conduct a nuclear test or carry out military provocations to bolster the military credentials of its young leader.
President Lee warned that the North’s continued provocations had caused Seoul and Beijing to work closer together, threatening Pyongyang’s key alliance.
He likened the situation to the North’s decades-long strategy of seeking better ties with Washington in a bid to exclude Seoul.
“The North isn’t happy about being pushed aside as South Korea and China move forward together,” he said during a special lecture at Seoul's Education Center for Unification. “Judging by the North’s distress, this appears to be the right approach.”
Still concerns linger over China’s role in propping up the Kim regime.
Security experts have said the transporter the North used to carry a large missile during a military parade for the 100th anniversary of the founder’s birth anniversary likely came from China. If confirmed, they say it would violate U.N. sanctions meant to curb Pyongyang’s weapons program.
Analysts say China prioritizes stability on its borders and therefore works to keep the North Korean regime afloat. It is also speculated Beijing values the North as a buffer zone separating it from U.S troop presence in the South.
In 2010, China prevented any direct blame of Pyongyang in a presidential statement released by the UNSC after the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan and opposed a statement against Pyongyang’s deadly shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.