Bid to Ease Tensions

U.S. and North Korea's neighbors move to keep stability in the Korean peninsula after Kim Jong Il's death.
2012-01-04
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This photo issued by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency shows a rally displaying support for new leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, Jan. 3, 2012.
AFP

A flurry of diplomatic efforts was underway Wednesday to maintain stability in the Korean peninsula following the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il as Beijing moved swiftly to contain rumors on Chinese microblogs of a military coup in Pyongyang.

Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, held talks with officials in China, Pyongyang's primary ally, calling on "all parties" to refrain from "any provocations" after Kim's Dec. 17 death.

"I think the United States and China share a strong determination to maintain peace and stability," Campbell said.

"We both underscored how important it will be over the course of the coming months to maintain very close contact," he said ahead of his trip to key U.S. ally South Korea.

In another diplomatic foray, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will visit Beijing next week to hold summit talks with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao, Lee's office said Wednesday. The meeting is expected to focus on keeping stability on the Korean Peninsula following Kim's death, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, Japan's Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, said Tokyo is committed to stability and prosperity in the region following Kim's death of a heart attack, which triggered concerns over the stability of the nuclear-armed, secretive, and impoverished North Korea.

"Various movements are taking place every day, especially in East Asia," Gemba said regarding the situation on the Korean peninsula and in the Asia Pacific region in general, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.

"By working in close cooperation with countries concerned, we will take all possible measures to prepare for any contingency," Gemba said, according to Xinhua.

North Korea under Kim's successor son Kim Jong Un had been lashing out at neighbors South Korea and Japan. Some analysts fear the junior Kim, only in his late 20s, may try to bolster his credentials by staging North Korea's third nuclear weapons test or missiles test.

Inter-Korean tensions have been high since the North staged an artillery attack on the South more than a year ago after Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing a warship with the loss of 46 lives in March 2010.

The two Koreas have remained technically at war as their 1950-53 conflict ended only in a ceasefire.

Coup rumors

Meanwhile, rumors of a military coup in North Korea spread rapidly on Chinese microblogs on Wednesday, although posts were rapidly deleted by the country's Internet censors, netizens said.

A keyword search on the popular microblogging service Sina Weibo for "military coup" in Chinese drew more than 40,000 search results late on Wednesday. Netizens suggested that many more posts had already been deleted by the authorities, who had begun a clampdown on such services.

"Has there been a military coup? Are there any people familiar with the actual situation who could confirm this?" wrote user @changshalaoL.

"I heard that the third fatty of the Kim dynasty and Korean state television are both under [military] control," @changshalaoL wrote, using a common Chinese nickname for Kim Jung Un.

Thousands of Chinese Weibo users posted similar reports of rumors, followed by requests for "the truth" and "information."

Some microbloggers commented on the rapid deletion of posts about the rumor by Sina's censors, who act under government regulation.

"How come there isn't a single post left about the military coup," tweeted user @yitianyoutiantian. "They are really deleting them fast, huh?"

In an apparent attempt to evade automatic keyword filters, some users referred to North Korea as "Cao county," a loose pun on the country's name in Chinese, as well as on a common expletive.

User @Oddoldi said the "original" microblog post had already been deleted from the service.

"If the rumors are true, will China send its troops in to support the Kim dynasty?" the user pondered.

China, which is also Pyongyang's largest trading partner, denied reports last week that the Chinese army had entered North Korea, saying they were "totally groundless."

The ministry made the statement in response to questions over reports claiming the Chinese army had already entered North Korean territory as requested by the country to help maintain its stability, Xinhua news agency reported. It did not identify where the reports came from.

Beijing has also said it wants North Koreans to unite behind Kim Jong Un.

Reported by Luisetta Mudie.