China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Singapore on visit

Mr Yang Jiechi is in Singapore on Aug 19 and 20, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - China's top diplomat is on a visit to Singapore and South Korea in what could be viewed as a bid by the nation to improve ties with its Asian neighbours amid deteriorating relations with the United States.

Mr Yang Jiechi, a member of China's powerful Politburo and head of the Chinese Communist Party's foreign affairs office, is in Singapore on a two-day visit ending on Thursday (Aug 20) at the invitation of the Singapore Government, said the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

He will call on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, said Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean will also host him to lunch while Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan will host breakfast.

Mr Yang will then travel to Busan on Friday and hold talks with South Korea's new national security adviser Suh Hoon on Saturday.

The talks will centre on Covid-19 response cooperation, bilateral relations and the situation in the Korean peninsula, said a South Korean presidential office spokesman.

The two sides will also discuss Chinese President Xi Jinping's planned visit to South Korea, which had been shelved because of the pandemic. President Xi was last there in 2014.

South Korea was the first country in May to establish a "green channel" with China to allow certain business people to travel between the two countries. Singapore followed suit.

Mr Yang is widely regarded as China's foreign policy czar. He was Ambassador to the US from 2001 to 2005 and Foreign Minister between 2007 and 2013.

He was last in Singapore in 2015, accompanying President Xi on his first state visit to the Republic to mark 25 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Singapore and China celebrate 30 years of formal ties this year.

DPM Heng said last month that he was looking forward to welcoming Vice-Premier Han Zheng to Singapore for the annual Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation meeting, which has usually been held in September or October.

A date has yet to be set, given the pandemic.

The two countries take turns to host this meeting, the most important platform to discuss bilateral ties.

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