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China reaches out to South Korea with late invite to global trade meeting

Seoul was initially left off the guest list for the Belt and Road Summit amid tensions over its deployment of a US anti-missile system

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 May, 2017, 2:11pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 May, 2017, 2:11pm

China has invited South Korea to a summit on a global trade initiative in Beijing in what appears to be the latest move to repair a strained relationship and reach out to the new South Korean president.

A delegation led by a lawmaker of the South’s ruling Democratic Party, Park Byeong-seug, will attend the Belt and Road Summit in the Chinese capital on Sunday and Monday, according to a diplomatic source and a South Korean media report.

South Korea was not initially invited to the gathering, at which China will showcase to world leaders its ambitious project to expand global trade with billions of dollars of infrastructure investment. Observers said recent tensions over Seoul’s deployment of a US missile defence system were behind that decision.

“An official invitation came from China recently,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a government official in Seoul as saying. China’s foreign ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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The shift in stance came one day after President Xi Jinping spoke to new South Korean President Moon Jae-in to congratulate him on his appointment.

During the call, Xi said that South Korea and China should respect each other’s concerns, set aside differences, seek common ground and handle disputes appropriately, while Moon said he planned to send a delegation to Beijing to discuss the anti-missile system, called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, or THAAD, which Beijing sees as a threat to its security.

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Park, who also served as co-chairman of Moon’s presidential campaign team, is expected to meet Chinese officials on the sidelines of the forum to discuss the ways to repair relations, the official told Yonhap.

On Tuesday, Beijing confirmed that an official delegation from North Korea would also attend the summit. Beijing did not give details, but Yonhap said that it would be led by Kim Yong-jae, the North’s minister of external economic relations.

The South Korean official told Yonhap that the possibility of an encounter between the two Korean delegations could not be ruled out.

The shift came one day after a congratulatory conversation from Xi to Moon Jae-in, the South Korea’s newly minted president on Thursday.

In the first direct contact between the top leaders of the two Asian neighours, Moon said that he planned to send a delegation to Beijing to solve the dispute over the deployment of system, which Beijing sees as a strategic threat at the doorstep, while Xi said that South Korea and China should respect each other’s concerns, set aside differences, seek common ground and handle dispute appropriately, the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement.

Chinese foreign ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Park, who also served as co-chairman of Moon’s presidential campaign team, is expected to meet key Chinese officials on the sidelines of the forum to discuss the ways to repair bilateral relations, the official told Yonhap.

On Tuesday, Beijing confirmed that official delegation from Pyongyang would also attend the summit. Beijing didn’t give more details about the North Korean delegation, but Yonhap said that it would be Kim Yong-jae, the North Korean minister of external economic relations.

The South Korean official told Yonhap that possibility for an encounter between the two Korean participants may not be ruled out.