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Monday, August 23, 1999 Published at 23:02 GMT 00:02 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Agreement at missile talks

South Korea has also held talks with Japan on the missile threat

South Korea's Defence Minister has held talks with his Chinese counterpart about North Korea's plans to test a new long-range missile.

The BBC's Andrew Wood in Seoul: "China still has influence"
The meeting in Beijing was the first between the defence ministers of the former Korean War adversaries.

Cho Sung-tae, who is in China for a week, and Chi Haotian agreed to increase military co-operation, the South Korean news agency reported.

[ image: The meeting in Beijing's Great Hall of the People was a first]
The meeting in Beijing's Great Hall of the People was a first
The visit is part of a series of diplomatic initiatives by Seoul to consolidate and encourage support from countries in the region should North Korea carry out the test.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung will meet US President Bill Clinton and the Japanese Prime Minister, Keizo Obuchi, before the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting in New Zealand next month.

They are expected to urge the North to accept the offer of friendly relations with the US and Japan, food aid and the lifting of US economic sanctions in return for abandoning the missile programme.

South Korean Foreign Minister Hong Soon-young: "Basis for cautious optimism"
The South Korean Foreign Minister Hong Soon-young has also been having talks in Tokyo with the Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura.

They agreed that North Korea had recently begun showing signs of readiness to open a dialogue with the international community and said they would "cautiously follow developments".

Call for more transparency

Mr Hong told the BBC there were wider issues to be addressed.

"There are always unpredictable factors in this region. There should be more transparency, more consultation among regional members so that these research programmes will not trigger unrest in the region," he said.

"We have to try to look beyond the immediate problem of missile launching. We have to think more about what the whole east Asian region will look like in the new millennium and how we can join forces to promote the causes of democracy and market economy."

South Korea has gradually rebuilt links with China. Diplomatic ties were established in 1992 and the countries are now each other's third largest trading partners.

China is an ally of communist North Korea, and Seoul is hoping it can use its influence to get the missile tests scrapped.

Beijing is also concerned that the current situation gives Japan an excuse to boost its armed forces and its military ties with the US.

Tests 'a sovereign right'

This round of meetings comes as North Korea seems to have stepped back a little from its threat to fire a missile.

[ image:  ]
North Korea stunned the region last August when it fired a three-stage rocket, part of which passed over northern Japan. Pyongyang said it was only launching a satellite.

Japan, the US and South Korea have recently expressed concern that North Korea may be preparing to launch a Taepodong-2 missile believed capable of reaching parts of the US.

Last week the North Korean Foreign Ministry said it was always ready for negotiation.

Pyongyang has hinted it might give up its missile programme if it is given diplomatic and economic rewards. Such a strategy has worked before.

In return for North Korea giving up a nuclear programme which was capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium, America and its allies are building North Korea two light-water reactors.

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