China's Premier Li Keqiang arrives in Seoul for North-east Asia summit

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang waving upon his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on Oct 31, 2015.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang waving upon his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on Oct 31, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in South Korea on Saturday (Oct 31) ahead of a trilateral North-east Asian leadership summit that Beijing hopes will improve trade links and help bolster its slowing economy.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was expected to fly in early on Sunday ahead of the afternoon three-way sit-down with Mr Li and South Korean President Park Geun Hye.

The trilateral gathering resumes what was originally an annual summit mechanism until tensions between North-east Asia's three largest economies in 2012 triggered a lengthy hiatus.

Mr Li was due to have a separate meeting with Ms Park later on Saturday, with the issue of nuclear armed North Korea likely to figure high on the agenda.

Ties between Seoul and Beijing have warmed considerably in recent years. Ms Park and Chinese President Xi Jinping have met on half-a-dozen occasions and are believed to enjoy a good personal rapport.

But Ms Park faces a delicate diplomatic balancing act with Beijing and Washington.

China and South Korea already have strong trade ties, and Seoul wants Beijing to exercise its considerable leverage over Pyongyang to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

But the South's 60-year military alliance with the United States remains the cornerstone of its national defence, and it does not want to become a pawn in the battle between China and the US for influence in Asia.

It is a battle that has heated up over the past week after a US destroyer sailed close to artificial islands built by Beijing in the South China Sea.