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Roh Visit Affirms Closer Ties Between Beijing and Seoul

By Sheila TefftStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 30, 1992



BEIJING

A BEIJING summit between South Korea and China is brightening prospects for ending a remaining standoff in the cold war.

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This week's ground-breaking visit of South Korean President Roh Tae Woo garnered an agreement from Chinese officials to help persuade North Korea to unveil its clandestine nuclear program. The meeting also further cements new economic bonds between China and South Korea, former enemies in the 1950-53 Korean War.

Mr. Roh's visit caps four years of blossoming ties built on the leader's push to broaden investment and trade with Beijing, Seoul's fourth largest trading partner, and patch up decades of hostility with the major supporter of its North Korean rival.

China backed North Korean President Kim Il Sung during the Korean War between 1950 and 1953 and has provided strong diplomatic backing and massive aid to the pariah regime in Pyongyang.

Since becoming head of state in 1987, however, Roh has established ties with the North's allies in moves to reduce tensions on the divided peninsula and stride toward eventual reunification.

Last month, Seoul normalized relations with Beijing, setting the stage for Roh's visit. Earlier, South Korea forged relations with the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries which heavily backed North Korea until the fall of communism.

Following a call by both countries Sept. 28 to eliminate nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula, Roh said Sept. 29 at a press conference that, with China's assistance, he has "high hopes that progress will be made" in ending the impasse over North Korea's secretive nuclear program.

"The Chinese side shares our hope that this can be done," the South Korean leader said.

The United States, Japan, and other South Korean allies have demanded that North Korea accept full international inspection of its nuclear facilities. While economically stagnant, Pyongyang is pursuing normalization with the US. It resists opening fully to the West and fears being subsumed by the South once the Koreas are reunified.

Roh cautioned that any future aid from the economically robust South, Japan, and other countries will pivot on opening North Korea's nuclear program. "The suspicious development of North Korea is not only a major stumbling block in North-South relations but also an international issue," he said.

"If North Korea can free others of those worries and fears, not only those countries but also South Korea can offer some help," he said.

In recent years, China has sought to prod the North into a compromise with the South and urged the United States to be more open to Pyongyang. Washington has maintained that North Korea is actively pursuing its nuclear program and is close to obtaining a nuclear capability.

Emerging from the international isolation that followed the massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing in 1989, China has sought to repair ties with its neighbors and broker an end to cold war hostilities it once helped feed.

At his press conference, Roh said that South Korea "prefers not pressure but persuasion" in convincing North Korea to open its nuclear program. A Chinese analyst, however, predicted that Beijing will step up efforts "to push North Korea toward the verification process."

"China is willing to make efforts to promote relaxation on the Korean peninsula," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wu Jianmin said in a news conference Sept. 29.

Some observers say Chinese leaders are not unified in their views on pressuring the North. Hard-line President Yang Shangkun told Roh in a Sept. 28 meeting that international pressure on North Korea was "not desirable." This may reflect a hope to preserve North Korea's independent status.

Although Japan has followed the US lead in isolating North Korea, Beijing also hopes to convince Tokyo to ease its stance toward Pyongyang and broaden economic ties.

North Korea itself, suffering from the loss of trade with the former Soviet Union, has shown a recent eagerness for trade and investment ties with Japan and the US. -PATHNAME- /usr/local/etc/httpd/plweb/DBGROUPS/paper/database/tape/92/sep/day30/30011.