South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun sought to reassure North Korea yesterday that it would get the support it needs to haul itself into the modern age provided it abandoned a quest for nuclear arms.
At the same time, he warned the Stalinist regime that pursuing its nuclear ambitions jeopardized the future of Northeast Asia.
"North Korea must dismantle its nuclear project," he said in a speech at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University, where Chinese President Hu Jintao (
"It has to choose the path of peace and coexistence with others. No nation in the international community believes that the nuclear project will assure its future."
He said no country should be alienated in Northeast Asia but in the same context, "no nation has a right to threaten the security of neighboring states and the stability of the region."
South Korea and China said in a joint statement issued late Tuesday that a nuclear-free and stable Korean Peninsula was paramount to its future development.
"The two sides are also convinced that the nuclear issue in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea [North Korea] could be settled through talks," the statement said, without specifying whether they should be in a bilateral or multilateral context.
North Korea has remained silent on Roh's maiden trip to China as president.
Roh said yesterday that he sincerely hoped that Pyongyang would chose to "join the ranks in the march toward peace and prosperity."
"When North Korea discards its nuclear program and comes forward onto the path of dialogue and openness, the rest of the world will not spare the support and cooperation it needs," he said.
Continuing a thread he has been weaving since his arrival in China Monday, Roh stressed the need for Northeast Asia to move forward to keep pace with a rapidly changing, globalized world.
While he acknowledged that past conflicts in the region had created suspicions that still exist "as an open sore," Roh urged people to push on and consider the future.
"Now, the course of Northeast Asian history should be changed," he said. "We should not repeat the past history of invasion and forced control. The scars of confrontation and conflict should be healed and a new order of cooperation and unity put in place."
He said Europe had done it and Northeast Asia must follow suit.
"The European countries saw the need half a century ago, established common objectives for the future and sowed the seeds," he said. "As a result, the European Union today is enjoying peace and prosperity envied by all other peoples. There is no suspicion among EU nations; the walls of suspicion that once occupied their minds have crumbled."
Roh said the direction the region took rested largely on the shoulders of North Korea's reclusive and unpredictable leader Kim Jong-il.
"When North Korea opens up its doors, realizes economic stability and joins the international community constructively, Korea and China as well as the entire region will benefit substantially in their quest for peace and prosperity," he said.