Park, Obama united against N Korea

Leaders of South Korea and the United States on Tuesday reaffirmed their commitment to dealing with North Korean provocations and diffusing its nuclear ambitions, amid growing speculation over Pyongyang's motives for recently releasing two Americans.

The meeting was held on the sidelines of the two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing, which the two leaders took part in.

"(The two leaders) shared the need for the global community to take an united action toward North Korea's nuclear programme and to make joint efforts for the denuclearization of North Korea," a Cheong Wa Dae official said.

The US president thanked South Korea for its efforts in fighting the Ebola virus and also exchanged views on the need to bolster trilateral cooperation between South Korea, Japan and the US for peace and stability in the region.

The summit between Park and Obama was held three days after North Korea handed over two US citizens -- Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller -- who had been imprisoned by the communist regime for months.

Presidents Park Geun-hye and Barack Obama meet on the sidelines of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The timing of Pyongyang's "goodwill gesture," however, raised questions about the message its ruler Kim Jong-un was trying to send to Washington while Obama is in China, its neighbour and chief benefactor.

On Monday evening, Obama dismissed speculation that Pyongyang's release of the US citizens signals a move to engage in a new round of nuclear talks. The US president said that Washington needs more than a "small gesture" before opening a high-level talk with the communist regime.

Park's office told reporters that the meeting was intended to seek joint efforts to effectively deal with North Korea's ambiguous attitude toward the inter-Korean dialogue it previously agreed to hold, but has been threatening to cancel.

However, some suggested that Park's enthusiastic support for a Beijing-led initiative on the regional trade pact may have put Washington in a bad mood. Unlike Park's summit with Chinese President Xi on Monday, South Korean officials didn't give specific time and agendas to be discussed at the meeting with Obama even a few hours after they held the meeting. The two leaders were seen meeting while sitting on a sofa at a hotel.

It was their fourth meeting since Park took office in early 2013, but the first after the two countries agreed to delay the transfer of wartime operational control last month. The meeting was seen as crucial for Park as it was expected to give her an opportunity to see whether the US has changed its policy on the Korean Peninsula since the Republican takeover of Congress in last week's midterm elections.

Park arrived in Beijing on Sunday for the APEC meeting and to hold a series of separate meetings with leaders participating in the conference.

At the APEC general session on Tuesday, Park expressed her support for a Chinese-led regional free trade initiative, which the US is concerned will conflict with a separate Washington-led pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. APEC countries account for 40 per cent of global trade.

Experts say that APEC leaders' endorsement of the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific could have a significant impact on the global economy. The South Korean president also suggested leaders to develop a compatible transportation card that travelers could use throughout the Asia-Pacific region, officials said.

Later in the afternoon, Park also met Australian Premier Tony Abbott to discuss ways to strengthen bilateral ties and called for the swift passage of their free trade pact in the South Korean parliament.

Park also met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a rare encounter at a banquet held for APEC leaders on Monday evening. Though the meeting was not prearranged, the leaders agreed to encourage their officials to engage in talks on the highly sensitive issue of Korean women who were forced to sexually serve Japanese soldiers during World War II.

South Korea and Japan have held four rounds of director-general-level talks on the comfort women issue, but the two sides have failed to make progress.

The brief discussion between two leaders took place while Park and Abe sat next to each other at a banquet hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Park and Abe discussed various bilateral issues, presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook said, without giving details. It was their first encounter in eight months.

Abe has twice asked to hold a summit with Park this fall to improve their countries' ties, but Park has repeatedly demanded that Japan show sincerity toward historic disputes as a prerequisite for a summit. The two have not met one-on-one since Park took office early last year.

Beijing was the first leg of Park's nine-day Asian tour. After the APEC summit, she is set to attend two other regional meetings including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit and the East Asia Summit in Myanmar, and the Group of 20 Summit in Australia.