The majority and opposition parties in South Korea have conflicting views of Kim Jong Il’s trip to China. The ruling, conservative Grand National Party (GNP) asserts that China bears partial responsibility for the sinking of the Cheonan, and disapproves of the visit. The left of center Democratic Party, on the other hand, hopes that the trip might serve as impetus for North Korean opening and reform.
Park Jin, a GNP assemblyman and Chairman of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Unification Committee was in Washington, DC on Monday to give a keynote address at the fourth annual Seoul-Washington Forum. In his speech, Park said, “Chairman Kim Jong Il’s visit to China comes at an extremely sensitive time, after the Cheonan incident. It is particularly important then, that China does not send the wrong message to North Korea at this time."
Park continued, “If China, along with the United States, is to work for the safety and security of Northeast Asia, then it must not turn a blind eye to a threat to the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula. It is not only the U.S., but also South Korea which must hold a strategic dialogue with China on North Korea-related issues.”
Park further chastised China, saying, “China seems to want to resolve this difficult situation, but if they continue this way (taking a conciliatory stance on North Korea), it could become a considerable liability for them in the future.”
At a meeting of members of the supreme council of the GNP on Monday, the party chairman, Chung Mong Joon stated that ““It is disappointing and worrisome that China is accepting the visit of Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong Il during a tragic period due to the Cheonan incident.”
On the other side, Lee Kang Rae of the Democratic Party was more enthusiastic at a party meeting today, “I hope that Chairman Kim Jong Il’s visit to China promotes the reform and opening of North korea, and that it serves as a new breakthrough in restarting the Six Party Talks.”
“It is unlikely that President Hu Jintao and Chairman Kim Jong Il will discuss the Cheonan incident,” Lee remarked. “North Korea will want China to take an objective and sober stance toward the situation from a neutral, third-party perspective.”
“The Lee Myung Bak administration is inclined to act on emotion, and some of the conservative political forces have already leapt to conclusions about the Cheonan incident. If South Korea ends up responding the way such conservatives would have us, there will be problems in international cooperation with China and the U.S., and it will be hard to avoid isolation in the Six-Party Talks,” Lee added.
Regardless, the Lee administration has continuously asserted that discussion of restarting the Six Party Talks can come only after the Cheonan incident has been settled.