China Accepts Korean Role

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BEIJING: China's President Jiang Zemin says China will accept the invitation extended by the United States and South Korea to mediate four-party talks aimed at reaching a permanent peace on the Korean peninsula. A South Korean newspaper today quotes Jiang as saying, "We hope to play a constructive role for peace on the Korean peninsula." The two Koreas ended their 1950s hostilities with an armistice, and are technically still at war. Until now, there had been no official word on China's reaction to the April proposal by President Clinton and President Kim Young-sam of South Korea, though China's first, non-committal comments were promising. TIME's Jaime FlorCruz reports from Beijing that today's acceptance is another sign of the warming in Sino-American relations since the tense standoff this March in the Taiwan Strait during Taiwan's first democratic presidential election. The acceptance also indicates China's interest in playing a positive role in global diplomacy. "It is an issue of stature for China," FlorCruz says. "It is a way of showing its importance in the global diplomatic community, and a way of saying China cannot be ignored or excluded. The public nature of China's acceptance is a sign that the Chinese are quite eager to play such a role and keen to make diplomatic points for doing so." FlorCruz says the United States has been tacitly encouraging China's new role, and notes that Jiang's announcement closely follows a visit to China by U.S. National Security Adviser Anthony Lake. North Korea still has to be persuaded to come to the table, but China -- uniquely -- has considerable clout with the leadership in Pyongyang. --Scot Woods