China Signals Displeasure with Cheonan Reaction

      May 19, 2010 11:33

      China is apparently displeased that South Korea and the U.S. are maintaining strong cooperation after tentatively concluding that the Navy corvette Cheonan was sunk in a North Korean torpedo attack. Presidents Lee Myung-bak and Barack Obama discussed the matter on the telephone Tuesday morning and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to fly to Seoul for consultations.

      The Foreign Ministry plans to brief ambassadors from about 30 countries on the findings of an official investigation.

      But Chinese Ambassador Zhang Xinsen reportedly told the ministry that he will not attend the briefing and send charge d'affaires Xing Haiming on his behalf. It appears the decision was not made by Zhang himself but came from Beijing.

      A government official said it is "normal" for foreign embassies to send a deputy to a meeting arranged by the host country if the ambassador is unable to attend. But another official said, "We hope Ambassador Zhang will attend the briefing himself."

      During a bilateral summit in Shanghai on April 30, Seoul offered to tell Beijing of its findings in advance, but Beijing reportedly declined the offer citing procedural problems.

      In a public meeting on April 4, Unification Minister Hyun In-taek told Zhang it is important for the Chinese government to "play a responsible role." But China says it can only attend a briefing that is completely closed to the public. The ambassador told opposition party leaders there was no "solid evidence" that the Cheonan was sunk by North Korea and the matter is between the two Koreas.

      A source in Beijing said, "China is trying to decline advance notification of the findings from South Korea using complicated excuses, which gives a clue to China's general attitude." During a bilateral foreign ministers' meeting Saturday, Chinese delegates merely repeated their country's earlier call for a "scientific and objective investigation."

      Zhang on Monday pointedly met only Democratic Party leaders, who appear bent on denying North Korean involvement in the sinking, but did not pay a visit to ruling Grand National Party leaders. It has been customary for new foreign ambassadors to visit both ruling and opposition party leaders to introduce themselves and visit ruling party leaders first.

      The GNP said Zhang expressed his intention to pay a visit before formally assuming his post here but nothing has come of it so far. The Chinese Embassy said the envoy saw only DP leaders on Monday because his schedule fit in with theirs, adding it had no information about a planned meeting with GNP leaders.

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