N.Korea Tensions Overshadow Asian Security Forum

18 07 2010

By Ian Timberlake Ian Timberlake (AFP, Jul 15, 2010)

HANOI (AFP) – Tensions over the sinking of a South Korean warship will overshadow the Asia-Pacific’s largest security forum when it convenes in Vietnam next week, diplomats and observers said. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will join her counterparts from 27 countries and blocs including China, Russia and the European Union for the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) on Friday.

South Korea has said it wants the forum to condemn North Korea for a torpedo attack which broke the corvette in two in March with the loss of 46 lives. Pyongyang vehemently denies the allegations and says it is ready to retaliate. […] Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert Gates will pay their respects to the dead South Korean sailors during a visit to Seoul’s war memorial on Wednesday, two days before the Hanoi meeting.

The allies also plan a naval exercise as a show of strength. They are still deciding where to hold the drill, originally planned for the Yellow Sea, following protests from China. Vietnam said North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-Chun was expected to attend the ARF talks, which also include US allies Australia and Japan. Permanent Security Council members China and Russia ensured the UN’s July 9 statement was “very soft and indirect,” contrary to what Washington and Seoul had urged, University of Sydney Korean studies lecturer Leonid Petrov said.

China and Russia have not publicly accused the North of sinking the warship, despite an investigation by the United States, South Korea and other countries which found strong evidence of a North Korean torpedo attack. Diplomats and analysts said that while the ARF is likely to comment on the sinking of the Cheonan — possibly by referring to the UN statement or using similar language — it was unlikely to blame Pyongyang.

Communist Vietnam, which will chair the meeting, has major business links with South Korea but sees the North as an ideological ally. “Hanoi will try not to antagonise Pyongyang unnecessarily but also should not shy away from some comment,” said Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS research institute in Hawaii.

International Crisis Group analyst Daniel Pinkston said he expected the foreign ministers gathered at the forum to find a way to play down the issue, “considering the format and decision-making process at the ARF”. The UN statement gives the forum “a plausible reason for avoiding it”, he said…

…In the wake of the UN’s statement, nuclear-armed North Korea said it was willing in principle to return to multilateral disarmament talks which it abandoned last year. North Korea can be expected to make more efforts at the ARF to “mend bridges” with Washington and perhaps Seoul, while believing it can “continue extorting concessions and aid,” Petrov said. “But it’s not going to lead anywhere unless North Korea undertakes a major reform. Pyongyang doesn’t understand this,” he said.

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Flygtningesag er diplomatisk svendestykke

10 11 2009

NK refugees in Vietnamby Kim Rathcke Jensen, Berlingske Tidende (20 oktober 2009)

De nordkoreanske flygtninge har forladt den danske ambassade i Vietnam, og er på vej mod asyl i Sydkorea. Men det har ikke været nemt at finde en løsning, vurderer ekspert.

BEIJING: De ni nordkoreanere, der i næsten en måned har boet på den danske ambassade i Hanoi, forlod tirsdag morgen den vietnamesiske hovedstad og er nu på vej mod Sydkorea.

Det siger en anonym vietnamesisk diplomat til nyhedsbureauet AFP. Udenrigsministeriet har bekræftet oplysningen til Ritzau. Gruppen bestod blandt andet af en 19-årig kvinde, hvis mor tidligere var flygtet med hendes søn til Sydkorea, en 42-årig læge og hans hustru samt en mor og hendes 13-årige datter.

Det har den sydkoreanske aktivist Kim Sang-Hun fra International Network of North Korean Human Rights Activists tidligere oplyst. Sammen med to andre NGO’er hjalp de gruppen med at komme frem til den danske ambassade, som de gik ind på den 24. september. Her har de boet i et blåt telt på ambassadens grund, mens der blev forhandlet om en diplomatisk løsning for de uindbudte gæster.

Den blev fundet tirsdag morgen. Her steg de ni personer ombord på et fly, der efter en mellemlanding i Singapore bringer dem videre til Sydkoreas hovedstad Seoul. Og det er ikke tilfældigt, at det skete netop i dag. Kort efter flyet med nordkoreanerne var lettet fra lufthavnen, landede der et andet fly med den Sydkoreanske præsident Lee Myung-bak, der nu er på sit første officielle besøg i Vietnam.

Hvis der ikke var blevet fundet en løsning for de ni flygtninge, kunne det have udviklet sig til et diplomatisk problem mellem Vietnam og Sydkorea. Ligesom Nordkorea er Vietnam et kommunistisk land, og de to lande har tætte forbindelser. Regeringen i Hanoi vil derfor ikke fornærme Nordkorea.

Men Vietnam er et langt mere åbent land, der får stadig tættere økonomiske og politiske forbindelser med omverdenen og demokratiske lande som Sydkorea. »Der har helt sikkert ligget et stort diplomatisk arbejde bag det her, og det har ikke været nemt at finde en løsning,« siger Leonid Petrov, der er lektor i nordkoranske forhold på University of Sydney.

»Ved at lade flygtningene rejse ud af landet, sender Vietnam et signal til Sydkorea om, at de er ansvarlige. Samtidig sender de også en besked til Nordkorea om, at de lægger langt mere vægt på menneskerettigheder end politiske signaler,« siger Leonid Petrov.

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SKorea, Vietnam presidents to meet after war controversy

19 10 2009

Lee Myung-Bak_Nguyen Minh Trietby Ian Timberlake (AFP, 18 Oct. 2009)

(HANOI) – The leaders of South Korea and Vietnam will meet this week to boost ties and sign a raft of economic deals after a recent hiccup in relations over the Vietnam War, officials said.  President Lee Myung-Bak and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Minh Triet plan to sign a package of deals and upgrade to a “strategic cooperative” relationship, Vietnam’s ambassador to Seoul told Yonhap news agency.

But while noting that relations have warmed quickly since normalisation of ties in 1992, Pham Tien Van asked Seoul not to repeat a recent “mistake” related to the Vietnam War. “If South Korea beautifies its participation in the Vietnam War, it would be an act harming the feelings of Vietnamese people and rubbing salt into their wounds,” he said, according to Yonhap.  South Korea sent 300,000 troops to fight alongside the United States during the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975 with the country’s reunification.

South Korea’s Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs said last month it would push for legislation to give economic compensation and other benefits to Vietnam War veterans, saying they “worked for world peace,” Yonhap reported. According to diplomatic sources cited by Yonhap, Vietnam’s uneasiness over the proposed legislation led Seoul’s foreign minister, Yu Myung-Hwan, to make a rushed trip to Hanoi. But the issue has now been resolved, the Vietnamese ambassador told Yonhap.

Leonid Petrov, a lecturer in Korean studies at the University of Sydney, said although the wording of such legislation may sound offensive to Vietnam he did not think it would lead to lasting damage.  “I believe that this issue can be resolved easily through diplomatic cooperation and economic partnership,” he said. […] The two nations signed a joint declaration two years ago to widen bilateral ties, Petrov said, and South Korea is communist Vietnam’s third-largest foreign investor this year, according to official figures from Hanoi.

Preparations for Lee’s visit came as a group of North Korean asylum seekers remained under a tent in the grounds of the Danish embassy in Hanoi. A Vietnamese diplomatic source said last week that the North Koreans could leave the compound within days, meaning their departure could come while Lee is in Hanoi, but Seoul declined to comment when asked about such a scenario. The nine asylum seekers entered the embassy compound on September 24 hoping to reach South Korea, Kim Sang-Hun, an activist who said his group helped the escapers reach the embassy, told AFP earlier.

Petrov said he was sure the case would be resolved without damaging Vietnam’s bilateral relations with either North or South Korea.  While Vietnam has major business links with the South, it sees poverty-stricken communist North Korea as an ideological ally. Petrov said Vietnam could potentially play a major role in bringing the two Koreas closer, by demonstrating its own example of national unification and reconciliation and by showing the North a good role model for economic reform and “democratisation.”

Vietnam has a booming market economy. It remains a one-party state but its parliament has in recent years become more vocal over the country’s major problems such as corruption. “By building strong political and economic links with South Korea, Vietnam… proves that peace and cooperation between the societies based on seemingly different socio-economic models is possible and beneficial,” Petrov said.

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