The foreign ministers of Japan, China and South Korea agreed Sunday to make “maximum efforts” to dissuade North Korea from conducting a satellite launch but failed to reach consensus on how the three countries will respond if Pyongyang launches the rocket.
Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Kim Sung Hwan appear to have called for Beijing’s cooperation in seeking U.N. Security Council action against North Korea for tighter sanctions if the launch goes ahead, but Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi apparently showed reluctance to any move that could undermine North Korea’s stability.
“We were able to increase our common views” on the issue, Gemba told journalists after his trilateral meeting with Kim and Yang in Ningbo, eastern China. “But frankly speaking, I would not say the three countries completely shared the same view.”
Observers had been closely watching whether China would share the view as Japan, South Korea and the United States that if North Korea were to proceed with the launch, possibly as early as Thursday, it would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 1874 that bans the North from conducting any launch using ballistic missile technology.
Asked if China — a major benefactor of North Korea and one of the five permanent members of the Security Council — shared that view, Gemba declined to reveal Yang’s position, citing “sensitivity” of the issue.
“Despite the international community’s unified call on North Korea to restrain itself, North Korea appears determined to force through the launch plan,” Gemba was quoted by a Japanese Foreign Ministry official as telling his counterparts at meeting.
“If the launch goes ahead, it would be a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions,” he was quoted as saying. “The international community, including the Security Council, should cooperate and respond as appropriate.”
Gemba later said he is ready to lead talks on North Korea when he attends a two-day meeting of Group of Eight foreign ministers in Washington from Wednesday.
He is scheduled to hold separate talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the sidelines of the G-8.
In bilateral talks with Yang on Saturday in Ningbo, Gemba called for China’s cooperation with other countries in dealing with North Korea’s planned action, saying, “How this case would be dealt with could test the raison d’etre of the Security Council,” according to another Japanese Foreign Ministry official.
Gemba, however, did not say how Yang responded to his requests, only saying Japan and China, together with other countries, will “continue efforts until the last minute to make North Korea restrain itself” from proceeding with the launch.
North Korea says the launch, to be carried out sometime between Thursday and the following Monday, is meant for peaceful development and use of space, which is a universally recognized legitimate right of a sovereign state.
But Japan, South Korea and the United States, among other countries, suspect the launch to be a covert test of a long-range ballistic missile in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, including 1874.
Quoting a press release issued by China’s Foreign Ministry, the country’s official Xinhua News Agency reported late Saturday that Yang said in separate talks with Gemba and Kim that Beijing is “concerned and worried” about the latest developments on the Korean Peninsula.
“China hoped all parties involved would keep calm and exert restraint in light of the overall situation and long-term benefits, continue dialogues, and properly resolve relevant issues through peaceful ways,” Yang was quoted as saying.
He said China “will keep communication and coordination with all sides to promote the six-party talks and the denuclearization process of the peninsula, and to play a constructive role to the region’s peace and stability.”
The six-nation talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear weapon ambitions have stalled since December 2008. North Korea pulled out of the talks involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States in April 2009 after the U.N. Security Council condemned the North’s rocket launch earlier that month.
North Korea conducted a second nuclear test in May 2009.
In Sunday’s trilateral meeting, the three foreign ministers agreed to advance work so the leaders of the three countries can agree to start negotiations for a trilateral free trade agreement at a summit slated for May in Beijing, according to Japanese officials.
The foreign ministers agreed the three leaders will sign at the summit a trilateral investment accord that paves the way for talks for a broader FTA.
China, Japan and South Korea together account for about 20 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.
Among other issues, Gemba asked that China and South Korea further ease or remove restrictions on Japanese food imports that were imposed in the wake of last year’s nuclear accident in northeastern Japan that followed the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.