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  Asia-Pacific
Friend of Both North and S. Korea
Li Bin (޴) Freed from All Suspicions
Ex-Chinese Envoy to Seoul Back to His Research Post
Li Bin (޴), former Chinese Ambassador to Seoul

The former Chinese Ambassador to Seoul Li Bin (޴), who had been under investigation on suspicions of divulging national secrets and bribery case since January, 2007, came back to his work.

This time he returned not as a diplomat but as a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS: ϼ: http://www.ciis.org.cn/), the research arm of China's Ministry of Foreign Affiars (MFA), according to a South Korean daily.

Joongang Sunday, a weekend magazine of the large circulation daily Joongang Ilbo, reported on May 20, 2007 that the former Chinese envoy Li Bin has been relieved of all the suspicions placed on him for the last several months.

As fluent speaker of Korean, Li had been incommunicado with all of his Korean friends and media wondering and trying to trace his whereabouts for about four months.

Now Li is back. Li has been regarded as not only expert on Korean affairs and the one who understands and loves Korean people.

Li served nearly four years as top Chinese envoy in Seoul until August in 2005 before he took up a job of Chinese special envoy on the Korean Peninsula.

Li had been serving as vice mayor of Weihai () in Shandong (ߣ) Province since May 2006. But in December 2006 Li was suddenly summoned to Beijing where he was under probe. At the end of year 2006 Li was removed from his post as vice mayor of Weihai without any reasons.

According to a Hong Kong daily Mingpao (٥: http://www.mingpao.com), Li was arrested by Chinese police on suspicion of leaking national secrets, or of his involvement in bribery cases, or on both suspicions.

The Hong Kong newspaper reported that Li leaked the scheduled 2006 January visit to China by the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il to the South Korean and Japanese media.

Another local daily Chosun Ilbo earlier reported that in August 2006 Li visited South Korea and met with Gov. Kim Moon-Soo of Gyeonggi Province to suggest a ferry project connecting South Korea's Pyeongtaek with China's Weihai via railway.

It was not known which national secrets Li divulged, according to the vernacular daily. But it said Li served at the Chinese Embassy in Pyeongyang twice in 1986 and 1997 respectively. Li also served as an official guide for North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il in January 2006 when Kim visited Beijing.

Chosun said that there were speculations that Li might have divulged sensitive information influencing the relations between North Korea and China.

Earlier on Feb. 21, 2007 local wire service Yonhap quoted an unnamed source in Beijing as saying "It looks like Li make a 'deal' with South Korea regarding information on relations between North Korea and China."

The 51-year-old Li speaks perfect Korean and is able to even wield both Pyeongyang and Seoul dialects, just like any native Korean. Li was considered by many as probably the most expert on Korean affairs. Li spent 25 years altogether on the Korean Peninsula, two years longer than the period he lived on China where he was born and grew up.

Li served at the Chinese Embassy in Pyungyang for as many as 14 years. Prior to that, he studied linguistics at the Kim Il-Sung University in the North Korean capital for five years. Before he came to Seoul as an ambassador, he already spent three years at the Chinese Embassy in Seoul.

As the top Chinese envoy to Seoul Li's relations with South Korea and its people were very friendly.

Unlike his predecessor Wu Dawei (), who created controversy quite often with his stiff attitude, Li is very sociable and highly industrious person who gets along really well with local people. When hobnobbing with local journalists and businessmen, Li easily downs over 10 shots of "bomb shots," a local boiler maker.

With born industriousness and sociability, he never fails to attend nearly all the invitations. During summer time, Li even loves going to dog meat restaurants with his Korean friends. He used to eat dog meat and soup when he was in Pyeongyang.

Li often urged his own staffs to have dog meat by saying "How could you do the diplomacy with Koreans without eating boshintang (dog meat soup) and bomb shots?"

When his diplomatic friends visited Seoul, Li took them to his favorite boshintang restaurant in Gugi-dong, Jeongno-Gu, downtown Seoul. They included his predecessor Wu Dawei (), and Wang Yi (), China's ambassador to Japan.

Earlier in December, 2001, in a breakfast meeting with local journalists, Li supported Korean people eating dog meat, which was quoted by world media.

"Food is one of the cultures, everything in the world should not be judged by one standard, and a food should be recognized as a cultural variety of the world," Li said when he was asked to comment on the Korean people eating dog meat.

Li is still maintaining close ties with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il. In March 5, 2000, when Kim made a surprise visit to the Chinese Embassy in Pyeongyang, Kim stayed there with Li as long as five hours from 7 p.m. Li was serving as minister at that time. Li's encounter with Kim received world's attention as the bilateral relations between Pyeongyang and Beijing deteriorated.

They discussed Beijing-Pyungyang ties over drinks late into the night. Kim drank wine while Li had Chinese hard liquor. Kim chose the relatively mild wine because of his poor health.

Li's connection with Kim harks back to 1986 when Kim visited China for the first time in his life. Li interpreted for Kim when Kim was touring Shanghai. Thirteen years later in 1999 when Kim revisited Shanghai, Li guided the North Korean leader again.

Li recalled that at the time Kim said "What a change," referring to the drastic transformation of Pudong () area of Shanghai. Indeed, there was a big cry before and after 13 years, Li reminisced.

Li also served as interpreter for senior Kim, the late North Korean President Kim Il-Sung, when Kim and his entourage visited China's Gwangdong Province in the past. They all had dog meat at that time, according to Li.



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