July 03, 2014 11:57
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul on Thursday, where he will discuss issues of the day with President Park Geun-hye like how to resolve the North Korean nuclear impasse and Japan's intensifying revisionist campaign.
The summit serves as a crucial opportunity for the two countries to improve their diplomatic relations.
Another issue of some urgency is Japan's unilateral decision to scrap sanctions against North Korea, weakening global sanctions intended to pressure the country into giving up its nuclear arms program.
The political landscape in Northeast Asia is in upheaval amid a power struggle between the U.S., China, Japan and Russia. With the support of Washington's "pivot to Asia" policy, Tokyo has approved a reinterpretation of Japan's pacifist constitution allowing it to wage war even if it is not under direct attack. And while basking in the glow of U.S. approval, it has published a report claiming that a 1993 apology for its wartime atrocities took its present form due to some pressure from Korea.
It has also agreed with North Korea to lift sanctions imposed in 2006 if Pyongyang re-investigates what became of the Japanese victims of a bizarre abduction campaign from the 1970s and 80s. There are even forecasts that Japan's far-right Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could visit North Korea in August to meet with leader Kim Jong-un.
There is a strong likelihood that this is a ruse by Japan to keep China in check and break out of its growing diplomatic isolation in Northeast Asia triggered by the Abe administration's lurch to the far right.
These are the challenges Park and Xi face. Kim Heung-kyu at Aju University said, "Xi will attempt to use this visit to test his global strategy. Seoul needs to protect its interests by representing its own needs to China."
China often stresses the principle of keeping the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons but it has rarely gone beyond rhetoric and, as North Korea's sole ally, has failed to halt North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
"We need to get China to take concrete steps by making it clear that Seoul-Beijing relations cannot progress without a resolution to the North Korean nuclear crisis," former presidential secretary for foreign affairs and national security Chun Young-woo said. "We also need to open a direct channel of communication between the two governments in case of an emergency situation in the North."
And Yoon Duk-min at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy said, "Neither China nor South Korea or even the U.S. look positively on Japan's unilateral attempts to warm up to North Korea. We need to use this situation to keep Japan in check."
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