Pyongyang, Seoul gear up for meeting

By Deng Xiaoci Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/7 19:28:39

Delegates expected to focus on Pyongyang’s Olympic participation

North and South Korea exchanged lists of delegation officials over the weekend for a bilateral meeting on Tuesday in a move that Chinese experts hailed as a sign of fast improvement in relations on the peninsula.

Tuesday's meeting, which will discuss how the North will participate in the South Korea-hosted Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang in February, will be the first bilateral talks since December 2015.

China's foreign ministry welcomed the meeting as a positive sign for improving bilateral ties, and experts expressed hope the meeting might kick-start a resumption of the Six-Party Talks and address the nuclear crisis.

Pyongyang notified Seoul on Sunday that it would dispatch a five-member delegation led by Ri Son-gwon, point man on inter-Korean affairs, to the high-level talks at the Peace House in Panmunjom, a village that straddles the demilitarized zone between the two countries, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported.

Seoul on Saturday, via a cross-border communication channel in Panmunjom, proposed sending a five-member delegation led by South Korea's Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon.

"Although the Tuesday talks will focus on the most urgent event - Pyongyang's participation in the Olympic Games - considering the seniority of the delegation officials dispatched, both sides are showing sufficient sincerity to push for a thaw in bilateral ties," Lü Chao, a researcher on North Korea at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Sunday.

"It's unlikely to touch on sensitive topics like Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, but still serves as a great start for easing tensions, and paves the way for all parties to seek a peaceful solution to the crisis," said Zhang Huizhi, a professor at the Northeast Asian Studies College in Jilin University.

Having progressed with its nuclear and missile tests, North Korea is now more confident about talking to the South, Zhang said.

Assistant Foreign Minister and Special Representative of the Chinese Government on Korean Peninsula Affairs Kong Xuanyou visited Seoul on Friday and Saturday and held consultations with Lee Do-hoon, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs.

During Kong's Seoul visit, China and South Korea reiterated that both sides stick to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and vowed to safeguard peace and stability of the peninsula and work together on addressing the crisis through dialogues, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.

Trump rhetoric

US President Donald Trump on Saturday said he would "absolutely" be willing to talk on the phone to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un but "not without preconditions" and that he hopes for positive results from talks between North and South Korea, Reuters reported.

"If I weren't involved they wouldn't be talking about Olympics right now," Trump said. "They'd be doing no talking or it would be much more serious."

North Korea researcher Lü Chao said Trump's hard-line rhetoric was among "the biggest tension escalators" and it was "funny for him to suddenly take the credit for the tension-easing talks now."

But it also sent a positive message that the US was willing to see a thaw in bilateral ties between North and South Korea, he noted, and "hopefully get everyone back to the negotiating table eventually."


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