China quits Korean peace commission

September 03, 1994|By New York Times News Service

SEOUL, South Korea -- The Chinese government stunned South Korea yesterday by announcing that it was withdrawing its delegate from the 4-decade-old military commission that oversees the armistice between North and South Korea.

The move seemed to have limited practical importance, since the commission's once-crucial role in managing day-to-day problems at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas has sharply diminished.

As the number of confrontations has been reduced, so have the functions of what is known as the Military Armistice Commission, which consists of China, North Korea and the United Nations command, dominated by the United States.

But in a region where such pronouncements usually have a deeper meaning, the announcement was an unmistakable blow to South Korea.

It was perceived here as part of Communist North Korea's unceasingefforts to cut Seoul out of any diplomatic maneuvering over the future of the Korean peninsula. Ever since a South Korean general replaced the U.S. general on the commission in 1991, North Korea has snubbed the commission and has sought to eliminate it. North Korea does not recognize the South Korean government.

Earlier this year, North Korea established what it described as a separate office at the border village of Panmunjom and pulled its delegation out of the armistice commission. North Korea has also said it wants to scrap the armistice and instead negotiate a formal peace treaty, but only with the United States.

In a statement, Deputy Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said North Korea's withdrawal in effect rendered the commission inoperative. Mr. Tang was said to have agreed with North Korea that a new agreement should be negotiated to protect the peace on the peninsula.

The announcement only added to South Korea's growing discomfort over the fact that in another crucial area, North Korea recently began negotiating directly with Washington over its suspected nuclear weapons program.

South Korea is being consulted on the talks, but it has no formal role. That has caused resentment among many officials here, particularly since Washington and the North Korean government in Pyongyang have agreed to take steps toward possible diplomatic recognition if North Korea abandons its efforts to build a nuclear arsenal.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, China is North Korea's last major ally. China is seen by the United States and South Korea as playing an important role in moderating North Korea's behavior and persuading it to halt its nuclear weapons program.

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