(Yonhap Interview) S. Korea holds significant stakes in South China Sea issue: Burns
By Chang Jae-soon and Roh Hyo-dong
WASHINGTON, June 27 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has significant stakes in ensuring freedom of navigation and global commons around the world, including disputed waters in the South China Sea, a former top American diplomat said.
Former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, who is now president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency that Seoul and Washington share a vision for "the rule of the road" that should guide behavior in the South China Sea.
Seoul's interests in making sure that freedom of "navigation and global commons are protected and secure and predictable has only gotten more and more significant," Burns said during the interview at his office in Washington.
"I've always thought the South Korean government has been quite clear about its interest in seeing that kind of arrangement, whether it's in the South China sea, or someplace else," he said.
The U.S. has been strongly critical of China's forceful assertion of its territorial claims in the South China Sea as Beijing has been building artificial islands in the disputed waters, also claimed by countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, in an effort to bolster its claims.
Washington has been drumming up international pressure on Beijing over the issue. Earlier this month, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel urged South Korea to speak out against China's behavior, saying Seoul is a major stakeholder in the international order in which it has thrived.
"The U.S. and South Korea share a vision for the region and the rules of the road that should guide behavior, whether it is in the South China Sea or in cyberspace," Burns said. "Translating that vision into practice through enhanced regional cooperation and adapted regional institutions and global norms will require concerted U.S.-ROK leadership."
Burns retired from foreign service in October last year after a 33-year diplomatic career. He is considered one of the most distinguished and admired American diplomats of his generation. Secretary of State John Kerry called him a "diplomat's diplomat."
The interview came ahead of his upcoming trip to Seoul.
"History is full of examples of rising powers colliding with established powers, and China's ambitious military modernization plans and expansive rhetoric are sobering," he said. "But conflict with China is not foreordained, and it is neither the purpose nor intention of U.S. policy to contain China or create a wedge between China and its partners and allies in the region, including South Korea."
Burns stressed that a "thriving China" is good for not only China, but also the U.S. and Korea as well.
The former diplomat also called for improvement in the Korea-Japan relations frayed badly over historical and territorial disputes, saying that the interests of the two key American allies "converge far more than they diverge."
"I have learned the hard way over my checkered diplomatic career that on issues of such great sensitivity, the advice of outsiders can have limited effect. All I can say is that I am confident that South Korea and Japan can transcend this very painful chapter of history," Burns said.
"And I am confident that the United States would continue to attach very high priority to our alliances with South Korea and Japan, and to the strongest possible relations between them," he said.
On North Korea, the former diplomat said that the question is not whether or not to engage.
"The question is under what terms. I have seen very little evidence to suggest that Kim Jong-un is interested and prepared to address the very serious concerns of the international community and engage in an authentic and credible negotiating process," he said.
On the issue of the U.S. desire to deploy the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile defense system to South Korea, Burns said without elaborating that it appears "very thoughtful conversations" are going on between the two countries.
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