China stands firm against nuclear N. Korea: S. Korean FM

SEOUL, July 11 (Yonhap) -- Chinese leaders expressed their firm will in opposition to North Korea's nuclear programs "with hard-to-doubt expressions" during a Seoul-Beijing summit last month, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said Thursday.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye sat down for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang late last month, with North Korea on top of the agenda.

"(China) used resolute and clear expressions about the North's denuclearization. It was hard for us to harbor doubt," Yun said at a debate hosted by the Kwanhun Club, a fraternity of senior Korean journalists.

"In the joint communique, we agreed to strive to make the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons, but that equals denuclearization of North Korea as it is the only nuclear-armed country in the region."

Critics have said the statement fell short of expectations that China could express a firmer commitment for a nuclear-free North Korea by using the term "denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," instead of "denuclearization of North Korea."

Yun's comment echoed President Park's remarks a day earlier that Xi and Li "were resolute that (the North's) nuclear weapons are never acceptable."

"The idea by some scholars that North Korea is becoming a strategic burden to China rather than a buffer state (between China and South Korea) is now shared by the Chinese leadership," Yun said.

"China sent a strong message to the North Korean envoy. I cannot give you details, but it was like, 'enough is enough,' so to speak," the top diplomat said, citing North Korean Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae's visit to China in May as part of Pyongyang's efforts to mend ties with its long-lasting ally.

Along with putting pressure on the communist ally, China, as the chair of the six-party talks, is seeking to find solutions via dialogue, Yun said.

"Chances are that China would convey its idea to the members of the six-party forum to resolve the nuclear issues," Yun said. "We cannot rule out possibilities of resuming the talks at some point, but it is not easy as of now."

The six-party talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear ambitions, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, have been dormant since late 2008.

A series of high-level meetings with China and the United States on the North Korean issues paved the way for building "a tripartite cooperative mechanism," leading to a strengthening coordination of five parties, including Japan and Russia, Yun said.

"Pyongyang's charm offensives since May, including successive suggestions for dialogue, are not irrelevant to such an international cooperation," he said, stressing the need for talks to make a real progress in the North's denuclearization effort.

Yun said the Seoul-Beijing summit also served as a venue for rare discussions on the reunification of the Korean Peninsula.

"Reunification issues have been a taboo in the bilateral relations. But Chinese leaders this time spoke about them openly," which indicates "how much the bilateral ties have improved."

Expressing regret once again over the forced repatriation of nine young North Koreans by Laos and China to their homeland in May, Yun said the Seoul government has strengthened efforts to protect the defectors "than ever before."

"The government is making efforts to prevent a recurrence of such an incident and is working to set up a customized system to secure their escape route in a very safe and definite way," he said.

Speaking of the relations with Japan, Yun said the government maintains a two-track approach by separating their shared value and common understanding from rows over history and territorial issues.

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have come under fresh strain after Japanese politicians made attempts to glorify its militaristic past and gloss over its wartime atrocities.

"Despite repeated signals to Japan to nurture stable relations, regressive remarks by several Japanese politicians hamper efforts to improve relations," Yun said.

"While maintaining our principles in dealing with history issues, (South Korea) holds a vision of separately dealing with other issues where two countries share strategic understanding such as North Korea's nuclear issues and common values of democracy and market economy."

During the first-ever talks with Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida in Brunei earlier this month on the sidelines of regional security talks, Yun urged Tokyo to stop glorifying its militaristic past, saying a correct perception of history is the No. 1 foundation for stable relations.

Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910-45.

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