| SEOUL, July 1
SEOUL, July 1 The president of China, North
Korea's only major ally, visits South Korea this week where the
leaders of the two countries are expected to call on Pyongyang
to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons, although Beijing will
make sure it is not seen as taking sides.
In a visit certain to be watched carefully in Pyongyang,
President Xi Jinping will be holding talks with South Korean
President Park Geun-hye for the fifth time in a year, without
yet meeting the North's leader, Kim Jong Un.
North Korea's nuclear and missile programme, and its plans
to hold a fourth nuclear test, will dominate the agenda,
officials in Seoul said.
"There will clearly be an expression of the commitment by
the two leaders and their governments that North Korea's nuclear
weapons will not be tolerated," South Korea's Foreign Minister
Yun Byung-se told parliament on Monday.
"(The two leaders) are expected to spend considerable time
discussing the North Korean nuclear and the Korean peninsula
issues in depth, and we believe the atmosphere will be
appropriately reflected in a joint document," Yun said.
China is usually very guarded in its opinion on North
Korea's nuclear programme but Pyongyang's three nuclear tests
and several rounds of sabre rattling have tested Beijing's
In May, Seoul said South Korea and China had agreed at a
meeting of their top diplomats that recent nuclear activity by
North Korea posed a serious threat to the peace and stability of
the region and Pyongyang must not conduct another nuclear test.
Xi, however, is unlikely to step much beyond Beijing's
stated position calling for a negotiated solution to the issue
through talks that involve the United States, while urging all
players to refrain from actions that will further escalate
Beijing has backed U.N. sanctions imposed on the North, but
is also not expected to upset its balanced approach towards the
two Koreas. Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in March that
denuclearisation on the peninsula was the only road to peace,
and that China would not permit war or instability on its
Xi is also courting stronger economic and diplomatic ties
with South Korea, a major trade partner, and his two-day visit
includes meetings with business leaders of Asia's fourth largest
economy, including executives from Samsung, LG
and Hyundai Motor.
North Korea has sent a flurry of mixed signals over the past
two days which has shifted some of the spotlight from Xi's
visit. It tested two short-range missiles on Sunday in violation
of a United Nations ban. On Monday, it said it would put two
American tourists on trial for crimes against the state.
Pyongyang also came up on Monday with a fresh proposal for
peace with the South, with which it is still technically at war.
It offered to stop military drills as early as this week, which
would coincide with Xi's visit, in return for the suspension of
annual South Korea-U.S. military exercises.
CHINA NOT THE MAIN PLAYER
Despite U.S. and South Korean pressure, China is likely to
maintain that it is in no position to ensure that the North give
up its nuclear arms.
"The main player in this is not China, but the other two
countries - North Korea and the United States," said Li Changhe,
a former senior diplomat who now works for the government-backed
China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.
"China is in there to push talks, getting those two to sit
down together. But the problem is neither side really listens to
us. We're stuck in the middle."
North Korea's Kim, who took power following the sudden death
of his father in December 2011, has maintained contact with
Beijing through high-level visits by officials from Pyongyang.
However, the closest Kim came to communicating with Xi was
through a letter handed to the Chinese leader last year through
an envoy. His father Kim Jong Il went six years asserting his
leadership domestically before travelling to China for the first
Xi, who is due to arrive in Seoul on Thursday in his first
visit to South Korea since taking office last year, is
reciprocating Park's visit to China a year ago.
The Asian nations have one of the world's largest commercial
partnerships, with two-way annual trade at nearly $230 billion.
China is South Korea's biggest trading partner.
South Korea is also one of the few major economies that runs
a surplus with China, to the tune of $63 billion last year,
thanks to exports of cars, smartphones, flatscreen TVs,
semiconductors and petrochemicals.
China's trade with North Korea was just over $6 billion in
2012, according to South Korean government data.
North Korea knows that its nuclear capability is the key
reason it commands world attention, former Deputy U.S. Secretary
of State Richard Armitage said.
"My belief is that North Korea wants to be left alone, with
some modest economic opening that they control," Armitage said
at a recent forum in Beijing. "They don't like China much more
than they like the United States."
(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park and James Pearson in SEOUL
and Sui-Lee Wee and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Tony
Munroe and Raju Gopalakrishnan)