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Moon Jae-in

Actress Song Hye-kyo among South Korean stars in Moon Jae-in’s China charm offensive

Seoul’s new president goes pop on four-day diplomatic mission

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 December, 2017, 8:15pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 December, 2017, 11:27pm

In the hit South Korean TV series Descendants of the Sun, Song Hye-kyo plays a surgeon trying to patch up lives and bodies in a fictional war-torn country.

On Thursday, Song was deployed on a real-life repair mission in the Chinese capital – to help mend ties between Seoul and Beijing after a year-long row over the roll-out of a US anti-missile system.

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The actress was among the troupe of K-pop stars, musicians and South Korean celebrities at a state banquet at the Great Hall of the People for South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s first official visit to China.

Other big names helping put on a show at the banquet were actress Choo Ja-hyun and boy group EXO-CBX.

South Korean pop culture is hugely popular in China – Descendants of the Sun was viewed more than 400 million times on a Chinese video site early last year. Song has also appeared in major Chinese movies and has been one of the most popular South Korean actresses since her appearance in the TV show Autumn In My Heart in 2000.

But South Korea’s cultural exports were caught in the crossfire of the row over THAAD, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system of sophisticated radar and interceptor missiles designed to spot and knock out incoming ballistic missiles.

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Seoul said the system was meant to ward off threats from Pyongyang but Beijing insisted it could peer through China’s defences. In retaliation, Beijing slapped an unofficial ban on South Korean TV shows and films, popular music and adverts featuring South Korean celebrities.

But the stars at Thursday’s banquet were just one part of Moon’s charm offensive during his four-day trip.

On Thursday morning, he and his wife Kim Jung-sook strolled out of the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse for breakfast at a nearby fast food chain.

The couple started the day with a meal of soy milk, deep-fried dough, steamed buns and dumpling soup – all classic Beijing street dishes. Moon also settled his 68 yuan (US$10.30) bill with a Chinese mobile phone app.

The meal was an attempt to connect to the Chinese public and their lives, Yonhap News Agency quoted a South Korean presidential official as saying.

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A day earlier on the 80th anniversary of the Nanking massacre, Moon stressed South Korea’s wartime links with China and offered his sympathy to the victims of the tragedy. He also will travel to Chongqing, where his country’s government in exile fought for independence in the 1940s.

On Friday, Moon took a leaf out of his predecessor Park Geun-hye’s playbook and delivered a speech at Peking University, one of China’s top colleges. Like Park, he cited Chinese classic literature to reach out to his audience. But there was one thing on which he could not compete with his predecessor – he does not speak fluent Mandarin.