Diplomacy on N. Korea at crossroads: S. Korean envoy

July 28, 2015
South Korea's Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Hwang Joon-kook (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

South Korea’s Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Hwang Joon-kook (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

SEOUL, July 28 (Yonhap) — Diplomatic efforts to bring North Korea back to nuclear talks are at a crucial juncture again amid the possibility of the communist nation mending fences with China, South Korea’s top nuclear envoy said Tuesday.

Hwang Joon-kook, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, said the North stands at a crossroads in its nuclear weapons drive — returning to denuclearization talks or completing its nuclear development.

“Now is an important time in connection with the North Korean nuclear issue,” he told reporters.

He cited the likelihood of a shift in North Korea-China relations and Pyongyang’s upcoming provocations, including the launch of a long-range rocket, as well as expectations after the Iranian nuclear deal.

Hwang was briefing media on the results of his trip to Shanghai and Beijing last week, in which he met with China’s point man on the Korean Peninsula Wu Dawei and senior researchers at major think-tanks there.

Wu chairs the now-stalled six-way talks on the North’s nuclear program for China. The other members are the United States, Japan and Russia.

Hwang also met Monday with Sydney Seiler, the U.S. special envoy for the six-party talks, in Seoul.

He would not make public more details of the series of discussions apparently in consideration of diplomatic practice.

Speaking to media later, a senior South Korean government official also noted the possibility of improved ties between North Korea and China in the foreseeable future.

Relations between the communist allies have apparently soured over the past few years with the North sticking to its weapons of mass destruction program.

There have been few reports of exchanges of visits by high-level officials between the two sides.

“Judging from common sense, it wouldn’t be advantageous to North Korea to maintain such a (uneasy) relationship (with China),” the official said on background. “China-North Korea relations are expected to change or improve, although it’s difficult to make the exact prediction about when or how.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping is on a rare trip to northeastern cities, including Shenyang which is adjacent to the border with North Korea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sent a wreath to a cemetery for Chinese soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, a good-will gesture to mark the 62nd anniversary of the end of the conflict.

Chinese media have carried relatively numerous news reports on Kim’s activity, in sharp contrast to silence a year ago.

The South Korean official said, however, it is premature to attach a special meaning to the moves by Xi and Kim in terms of the North Korea-China relations.

When asked whether there are concrete indications that the two sides are improving ties, he said, “We don’t know about it yet. The Chinese are probably paying keen attention to that as well.”