- Associated Press - Thursday, December 9, 2010

SEOUL | Diplomacy showed signs of life on the Korean Peninsula Thursday, two weeks after North Korea shelled its neighbor: China got off the sidelines and sent a top envoy to meet with Kim Jong-il, and an American governor whose visits have led to breakthroughs in the past announced another trip.

As both Koreas continued to carry out military maneuvers, regional powers balanced shows of support for their allies with attempts to negotiate a detente to avert a further escalation of tensions. Four South Koreans died in the Nov. 23 attack on Yeonpyeong Island, the first to target a civilian area since the Korean War.

Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo, Beijing’s top foreign policy official, turned up in Pyongyang for “warm and friendly” talks with the North’s leader, Mr. Kim, on Thursday, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.

The meeting — shown in photos with the two sharing smiles and handshakes — occurred a day after the top U.S. military officer slammed China for appearing unwilling to wade into the fray. Beijing has called for calm on both sides but has done little to rein in North Korea, despite being the only country that wields any significant influence over the totalitarian regime.

China fought on North Korea’s side during the Korean War and has remained the nation’s only major ally as well as its main supplier of economic aid and diplomatic support.

China’s move was met by another promising one from the U.S., which has spent the past two weeks denouncing the shelling, vowing not to reward the North for bad behavior and reiterating its commitment to ally South Korea. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson announced that he would travel to North Korea next week.

“If I can contribute to the easing of tension on the peninsula, the trip will be well worth it,” the governor said in a statement Wednesday.

Although the trip is unofficial — meaning Mr. Richardson is not serving as Washington’s envoy — such visits are essentially the only way the two countries can speak. Pyongyang and Washington, which fought on opposite sides of the Korean conflict, do not have diplomatic relations, and the U.S. position is that it won’t engage directly with North Korea until Pyongyang takes concrete steps to dismantle its nuclear program.

“By inviting Richardson, North Korea sent a message to the outside world that it does not want crisis, and it wants to resume six-nation nuclear talks,” said Kim Yong-hyun, an analyst on North Korean affairs at Seoul’s Dongguk University.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide