2011/01/15

China to station troops in N. Korea: report

SEOUL, January 15, 2011 (AFP) - China is in discussions with North Korea about stationing its troops in the isolated state for the first time since 1994, a South Korean newspaper reported Saturday.

The Chosun Ilbo newspaper quoted an anonymous official at the presidential Blue House as saying that Beijing and Pyongyang recently discussed details of stationing Chinese soldiers in the North's northeastern city of Rason.

The official said the soldiers would protect Chinese port facilities, but the location also gives access to the Sea of Japan (East Sea), while a senior security official was quoted as saying it would allow China to intervene in case of North Korean instability.

A spokeswoman for the Blue House said she had no information.

"North Korea and China have discussed the issue of stationing a small number of Chinese troops to protect China-invested port facilities" in the Rason special economic zone, the unnamed official was quoted as saying.

"The presence of Chinese troops is apparently to guard facilities and protect Chinese nationals."

China reportedly gained rights in 2008 to use a pier at Rason, securing access to the Sea of Japan, as North Korea's dependence on Beijing continues to grow amid a nuclear stand-off with the United States and its allies.

The last Chinese troops left the North in 1994, when China withdrew from the Military Armistice Commission that supervises the truce that ended the 1950-53 Korean war.

Seoul's International Security Ambassador Nam Joo-Hong told the Chosun Ilbo that China could now send a large number of troops into the North in case of instability in the impoverished communist state.

"The worst scenario China wants to avoid is a possibly chaotic situation in its northeastern provinces which might be created by massive inflows of North Korean refugees," Nam was quoted as saying.

"Its troops stationed in Rason would facilitate China's intervention in case of contingencies in the North," he said.