South Korean President Park Geun Hye to visit China for World War II anniversary event

Park Geun Hye will be attending upcoming celebrations in Beijing to mark China's victory over Japan in World War II.
Park Geun Hye will be attending upcoming celebrations in Beijing to mark China's victory over Japan in World War II.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea said on Thursday (Aug 20) that President Park Geun Hye would attend upcoming celebrations in Beijing to mark China's victory over Japan in World War II, an anniversary that most world leaders look set to shun.

But Ms Park's senior secretary for foreign affairs Ju Chul Ki told reporters no final decision had been made on whether the President would attend the showpiece event - a huge military parade in the Chinese capital on Sept 3.

"Discussions are currently under way on that," Mr Ju said, while adding that Ms Park was expected to hold a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping during her three-day stay.

China has pushed hard for a decent turnout of foreign leaders, but many seem concerned at the prospect of a parade that could marry a showcase for the military prowess of an increasingly assertive China with overt anti-Japanese sentiment.

Beijing, however, insists the event has only peaceful aims.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who staged a similar military parade in May boycotted by many Western leaders, is one of the few to have confirmed his attendance.

As a result, Ms Park's presence in Beijing, as the leader of a US-allied, fully democratic Asian nation, will offer the anniversary some added international credibility.

South Korea and China share a historical antipathy towards Japan, whose legacy of military aggression left both countries deeply scarred.

Ties between Seoul and Beijing have warmed considerably in recent years, and Ms Park and Mr Xi - who have already held two full-fledged summits - are believed to enjoy a good personal rapport.

But Ms Park faces a delicate diplomatic balancing act with Beijing and Washington.

China and South Korea already have strong trade ties, and Seoul wants Beijing to exercise its considerable leverage over Pyongyang to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

But the South's 60-year military alliance with the United States remains the cornerstone of its national defence, and it does not want to become a pawn in the battle between China and the US for influence in Asia.

There were some reports last week - denied by the presidential Blue House in Seoul - that Washington had sought to persuade Park against attending the celebrations in Beijing.