South Korea

Talks under way for Moon Jae-in visit to Beijing ‘within this year’

Analysts and diplomatic sources say China wants South Korean president to meet Xi in Beijing before a possible trip to Tokyo for a summit

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 October, 2017, 10:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 October, 2017, 2:48am

Beijing and Seoul are in talks to arrange a visit to China by South Korean President Moon Jae-in before the year is out – and analysts and diplomatic sources say China wants it to take precedence over his possible trip to Japan for a summit.

Seoul meanwhile is not considering any further THAAD deployments and would not join the US-led missile defence networks, South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha told a parliamentary hearing on Monday, news agency Yonhap reported.

South Korea’s deployment of the US Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence missile system in March to guard against potential attacks from the North angered China, which sees it as a security threat.

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When asked on Monday about plans for a trip to Beijing by Moon, Kang said the timing was being discussed with China.

“Given the leaders of the two countries agreed on the visit [by Moon] to China at a mutually convenient time when they met on the sidelines of the Group of 20 gathering in early July, discussions are under way to coordinate its timing,” Kang was quoted as saying. “We are pushing to make it happen within this year.”

China’s assistant foreign minister Kong Xuanyou, who is also the lead negotiator of the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme, is set to meet his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-Hoon in Beijing on Tuesday.

The two officials are expected to exchange information on Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programme and discuss ways to work together to manage the situation, Seoul’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday.

The meeting on Tuesday comes as China and South Korea seek to mend fences after Seoul announced it would deploy the US-built anti-missile shield in July last year, prompting Beijing to ban travel agencies from selling package tours to South Korea, along with other unofficial restrictions on trade.

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Chinese analysts and South Korean diplomatic sources said Beijing was hoping Moon would visit China ahead of a possible trip to Japan for a trilateral summit.

Kong on Friday held security talks with Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono and deputy foreign minister Takeo Akiba in Tokyo. The trilateral summit with South Korea was also on the agenda, which Tokyo is to host, Kyodo reported. A date has yet to be set for the summit.

“For China, improving relations with South Korea is a higher priority than improving ties with Japan,” said Zhou Yongsheng, a Japanese affairs expert at China Foreign Affairs University. “And South Korea’s Moon is more apt to improve relations with China that have been marred by THAAD.”

China would be concerned about the timing, a South Korean diplomatic source said, because if the trilateral summit is held in Tokyo before Moon visits Beijing, that would make Japan the first Asian country to host the South Korean leader since he became president in May.

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Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor of international relations at Renmin University, agreed that China would prefer Moon met President Xi Jinping in Beijing before he met a senior Chinese official at the summit in Japan. That official was likely to be Premier Li Keqiang.

“A bilateral summit is more important than a multilateral summit, and a government leader is of course second to the state leader,” Cheng said.

Beijing rejected Tokyo’s offer to host a trilateral summit in July because the timing was “difficult”, the Asahi newspaper reported in June. Sources were quoted as saying at the time that Beijing had called off the summit because of the diplomatic row with South Korea.

The last summit between the three countries was held in Seoul in 2015 and attended by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former South Korean president Park Geun-hye.