May 31, 2010 09:38
President Lee Myung-bak, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in a joint press release about the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan after a trilateral summit in Jeju at the weekend did their best to paper over clear differences in opinion over how the matter should be handled.
The three said they will "continue to closely consult and properly address the matter so as to maintain peace and stability in the region."
The leaders of Japan and China "expressed their condolences over the loss of lives caused by the sinking and offered words of consolation to the bereaved families, and the people" of South Korea, it said. Hatoyama and Wen "stressed the importance" of an international investigation into the sinking and "took note of the reactions of various parties."
Wen took a step toward appeasing criticism over China's reluctance to accept evidence that its close ally North Korea was behind the shipwreck. He said Beijing understands "the bitter feelings of the South Koreans and the families of the victims" and insisted China will protect no country whose actions "destroy peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."
Hatoyama said six-party nuclear talks can resume only if North Korea "undertakes a thorough self-examination and makes an apology. It's only natural to take North Korea to the UN Security Council," where Tokyo will "strongly support" South Korean efforts to sanction the North.
Lee demanded the North must admit its wrongdoings and take "appropriate steps" while promising to prevent further military provocations. "We must avoid letting the North off lightly if we are to guide it on the right path," he said.
The three leaders also adopted a 41-point document blueprint for future economic cooperation, environmental protection, and expansion of personnel and cultural exchanges. They also agreed to establish a permanent secretariat in South Korea next year.
On Saturday, Lee and Hatoyama met separately and agreed to start official negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement.
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