Fri, Jan 10, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Taiwan supports US over N Korea

TOKEN DECLARATION The foreign minister said Pyongyang should give up its nuclear weapons program but that Taiwan had little influence there

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Amid increasing international concerns over North Korea's secret nuclear projects, Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (簡又新) yesterday said Taiwan supports the US and Japan in urging Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

"It's our stance that North Korea should move to scrap its nuclear programs," Chien told a legislative subcommittee. "We side with the US and Japan on this issue."

Last October, the US announced that North Korea had admitted during talks it had a nuclear weapons program.

The US recently renewed its readiness to talk to Pyongyang only after talks with South Korean and Japanese diplomats in Washington, reversing its earlier decision that it would not engage in dialogue unless North Korea first scrapped its nuclear program.

Pyongyang has reportedly said it's willing to hold talks with Seoul within two weeks, an opportunity for South Korea to raise international concerns over the secret nuclear program.

But Chien admitted Taiwan has little say in affairs on the Korean Peninsula, adding that the only external powers capable of influencing events there are the US, Russia, China and Japan.

Chien said Taiwan should be cautious in dealing with Pyongyang in view of the increasing controversy over North Korea's secret nuclear arms programs, despite calls to develop ties with Pyongyang.

Taiwan in 1991 lifted a decades-old ban on direct trade and exchanges with North Korea. In 1995, Taiwan gave the green light to a chartered flight to Pyongyang. Since 1996, Taiwan has offered North Korea humanitarian aid on many occasions when the isolated communist country has been struck by natural disasters.

In his report to the subcommittee, Chien said certain obstacles remain to exchanges of high-ranking officials from Taiwan and South Korea and to the resumption of direct air links between Taipei and Seoul in view of Seoul's reservations about the likely reaction from Beijing.

The foreign minister reiterated his desire to see a resumption of regular air links between Taipei and Seoul.

In August 1992, Seoul switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing and direct air links between Seoul and Taipei were halted the following month. Since then, only carriers from other nations have operated direct flights between Taiwan and South Korea on a regular basis.

PFP Legislator Thomas Lee (李桐豪) highlighted South Korea's long-standing and substantial trade surplus with Taiwan as a possible bargaining chip for Taipei in talks with Seoul on the resumption of direct air links.

Last year, South Korea enjoyed a surplus in the region of US$3.8 billion in its trade with Taiwan, second only to Japan, Lee said.

Meanwhile, DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) criticized the foreign ministry for what she said was a miscalculation about the political landscape in South Korea surrounding Seoul's presidential election last month.

Hsiao said Seoul-based Taiwanese diplomats told her last October that Lee Hoi-chang would defeat Roh Moo-hyun in the race.

Roh, a liberal reformer from the governing Millennium Democratic Party beat his conservative rival by about 2 percentage points in the closely fought election. Roh will take over from Kim Dae-jung in February.

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