Can Moon Jae-in get relations with Beijing back on track after THAAD?
Visiting president tells South Koreans he will work to restore trust with China
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he and his Chinese counterpart were expected to agree to start negotiations to expand their free trade agreement after he began a fence-mending trip to Beijing on Wednesday.
Speaking at a forum attended by business representatives from China and South Korea, Moon said he expected the free trade agreement would also cover the service and investment sectors.
“I expect [the agreement] will lead to an expansion of the countries’ advance into each other’s service markets and also promote cross-border investment,” he was quoted as saying by South Korean news agency Yonhap.
The current free trade agreement between the two nations signed in June 2015 only covers products.
Moon arrived in Beijing on Wednesday morning for a four-day visit to China, his first since taking office in May.
Reining in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions is expected to be high on the agenda. But Moon will also be aiming to get bilateral relations back on track after Beijing’s furious reaction to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system (THAAD). Seoul said it had installed the anti-missile shield with powerful radars to protect it from attacks from the North, but Beijing sees it as a threat to its security.
Speaking to some 400 South Korean residents in the Chinese capital on Wednesday morning, Moon acknowledged that more efforts were needed to rebuild trust in the areas of politics and security. China and South Korea have been locked in a diplomatic row since July last year over Seoul’s deployment of the anti-missile system.
“Over the past 25 years, South Korea-China relations have achieved extraordinary development in the economic sector, but their relations in the political and security sectors fell short of such development,” Moon was quoted as saying by Yonhap.
“I will work to develop South Korea-China relations in all other areas to put them on a par with the development in the economic sector, so the South Korea-China relations will not falter due to external factors.”
“How much you must have suffered due to the aftermath of the THAAD issue,” Moon said. “This is why I have been taking enormous efforts to repair South Korea-China relations since coming to the office,” he said.
“As soil hardens after rain, I wish my state visit will help restore trust between the two countries and open a new era for the South Korea-China relationship.”
Moon, who is accompanied by what South Korean media described as the largest-ever business delegation on such a visit, is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday.
The two leaders will not issue a joint statement after their meeting but will speak separately to media, according to Moon’s office.
China’s discontent over the THAAD issue will loom over Moon’s time in Beijing. The row is the worst in the 25 years since the two nations established diplomatic ties, with Beijing imposing a series of punitive measures on Seoul, including banning group tours to South Korea.
The number of Chinese tourists visiting South Korea this year is expected to be halved from last year because of the travel bans, with about US$4.5 billion in lost revenue, Yonhap reported, citing Bank of Korea data. Last year, more than 8 million Chinese tourists travelled to South Korea.