President Xi Jinping hosted a lunch for South Korean President Park Geun-hye yesterday on the second day of her visit to China in what some observers described as an unusual show of hospitality.
The lunch, during which the two leaders were only accompanied by a few aides, came a day after a summit meeting and state dinner.
Xi and Park "continued to exchange views on bilateral ties, the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia, as well as other issues of common concern", Xinhua reported. They also talked about their experience in government.
The two leaders exchanged souvenirs at the lunch. Xi gave Park a porcelain enamel jar and a calligraphic work bearing a Tang dynasty poem, At Heron Lodge, containing the sentence, "Ascend another storey to see a thousand miles". Park gave Xi a traditional red lacquer square box and a tea cup set.
"It's quite special for the Chinese president to host a lunch right after a dinner," said Cai Jian , deputy director of the Centre for Korean Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. "It shows how much importance China attaches to the relationship."
Moreover, Park's decision to choose China for only her second international visit as president, following a trip to the United States in May, showed she was seeking an improved relationship with China, Cai said.
Traditionally, South Korean presidents have followed visits to the US, the country's main ally, with a visit to Japan.
"In the past 20 years, China and South Korea were increasingly close economically, but not politically," said Cai. Although China is South Korea's biggest trading partner, "politically, there was little trust between them. So, perhaps, now they are a little closer," said Cai.
The Yonhap news agency quoted Park as saying, in a meeting with South Koreans living in Beijing: "In order for our North Korea policy to succeed, we need co-operation from the international community. In particular, China's role is very important."
Yoon Sang-jick, South Korea's trade, industry and energy minister, said in Beijing yesterday that Park and Xi's summit meeting had given new momentum to negotiations for a bilateral free-trade pact, with negotiators from both sides to meet again in Busan, South Korea, on Tuesday.