Officials Try to Tackle Asian Problems : Summit: As APEC gathering nears, ministers work to smooth out rough spots in Korean, China-Taiwan ties.
As top leaders of Pacific Rim nations began arriving here Friday for a multilateral summit, their Cabinet ministers engaged in diplomatic minuets to address some of the region’s most intractable problems.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher and the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea met to discuss how to ensure that North Korea does not back out of a deal freezing its suspected nuclear weapons program.
“We’ve had to be vigilant of this situation in the past and we’ll have to be vigilant in the future,” Christopher said. “But we’re going to maintain our solidarity [among the United States, Japan and South Korea], and we’re going to maintain the freeze.”
Earlier this week, the Communist government in Pyongyang threatened to drop the nuclear agreement if Washington does not stop pressuring it to conduct a bilateral dialogue with the rival government in Seoul.
After Christopher’s meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Gong Ro Myong and Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono, the three officials issued a joint statement that their countries will “further strengthen the trilateral cooperation.”
The three countries will “continue to closely coordinate their policies . . . in order to encourage North Korea’s increased opening to and dialogue with the international community and the improvement in inter-Korean relations,” they said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen, meanwhile, took a tough stand on Taiwan, which Beijing views as a renegade province. His comments came at a news conference here where he was questioned aggressively by Taiwanese reporters who pressed him about recent Chinese missile tests near Taiwan. Those tests were widely seen as an effort at intimidating the island’s government and people.
“Taiwan is a part of China,” Qian said in response to one such question. “Taiwan should by no means embark on the road to Taiwan independence. Should such a situation occur, the peace and stability in the region . . . would be damaged.”
Later during the news conference, which included ministerial-level representatives from all 18 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, another reporter from Taiwan pressed Qian further.
“My question is the mainland China missile test . . . and how to prevent conflict, [how] to cooperate and how to behave without breaking the rules, to be proper between the members [which include both China and Taiwan],” she said. “I want the U.S. and P.R.C. [Chinese] delegations to answer this.”
Perhaps concerned that this question could puncture the carefully cultivated atmosphere of Pacific Rim harmony that Japan wants the APEC meeting to convey, Japanese International Trade and Industry Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto intervened and blocked any Chinese or American response.
“I terribly hate to say, are you going to assume that there could be a violation of the rules?” Hashimoto asked. “Is that what you want to hint at by asking this question?”
A Japanese official then called on another reporter.
Later in the day, Ku Chen-fu, Taiwan’s top negotiator with China who is in Osaka as Taipei’s highest-ranking representative to Sunday’s APEC summit, said he expects to meet Chinese President Jiang Zemin at least briefly. He said he will use the opportunity to press for improved relations.
Dialogue between the two sides broke down after Beijing was angered by a June visit to the United States by Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui. Although Lee’s trip was a private visit to his alma mater, Cornell University, Beijing saw it as an attempt by Taiwan to strengthen its international diplomatic position. China protested vehemently to Washington and warned Taipei not to make any moves toward formally declaring independence.
China has declared there will be no “direct talks” with Taiwan at the Osaka APEC meeting, but it has not said that Ku cannot meet Jiang informally.