Seoul denies reports of impending visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping

A South Korean newspaper reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping had finalised plans to visit Seoul ahead of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan.
A South Korean newspaper reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping had finalised plans to visit Seoul ahead of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan.PHOTO: DPA

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The South Korean presidential office on Thursday (June 6) denied reports that Chinese President Xi Jinping has confirmed plans to visit Seoul before the Group of 20 summit.

A presidential Blue House official was quoted as saying by local media that related reports could not be confirmed and plans for Mr Xi's visit to Seoul had not been finalised.

Seoul's Ministry of Foreign Affairs also denied the report, but said the two countries are working closely on a matter regarding a "high-level exchange", though nothing has been confirmed.

JoongAng Ilbo, a local newspaper, had reported that Mr Xi had finalised plans to visit Seoul ahead of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, scheduled for June 28 and 29.

The daily cited unnamed Western diplomatic sources familiar with the matter. It said the decision to visit Seoul was made based on the need to consolidate relations with South Korea.

The newspaper had also cited other unnamed sources as saying that Seoul and Beijing began working on Mr Xi's visit to Seoul on Monday and that Mr Xi hopes to strengthen relations with Seoul by holding additional summit meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Although Seoul has denied reports that a visit by Mr Xi is in the works, a number of issues have risen as possible agenda items for a Moon-Xi summit, including the China-US trade issue.

While Seoul has mostly stayed clear of the issue, US Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris on Wednesday stressed the importance of security in the fifth-generation network.

"Decisions made today regarding 5G networks will have national security implications for decades," Mr Harris said in a keynote speech at a conference in Seoul.

The comment has been interpreted by local media as indirect pressure on South Korean entities to support the US pressure on Huawei Technologies.

North Korea would also be high on the agenda for a Seoul-Beijing meeting. Since the second US-North Korea summit in Hanoi in February, denuclearisation talks have been put on hold, and Pyongyang has shown signs of seeking closer cooperation with China and Russia.

China is also seeking closer relations with Russia.

According to media reports, Mr Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed agreements strengthening Beijing-Moscow relations and on cooperating in global affairs.

Separately, Japan has faced difficulties engaging North Korea despite having expressed willingness to hold a summit with the North without preconditions.

Tokyo had sought to convey its stance to Pyongyang during a two-day conference that kicked off on Wednesday in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, according to a Japanese news outlet on Wednesday. However, the communist regime had cancelled its participation in the event.

According to Asahi Shimbun, Japan's Foreign Ministry sent Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau deputy director-general Masami Tamura to the Ulaanbaatar Dialogue on North-east Asia Security Initiative, an annual conference held since 2013.

Japan has been pressing North Korea to repatriate its people abducted by the communist regime, maintaining that a summit would happen only when progress is made on the issue.

But as Japan finds itself left out of North Korea denuclearisation talks, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would like to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "without setting preconditions", signalling a shift in the approach towards the North.

Since South Korean President Moon and Mr Kim met for the first time in 2018, the North Korean leader has held direct talks on denuclearisation with the United States, China and Russia.

While the reason behind the cancellation is not known, Mongolian Foreign Minister Damdin Tsogtbaatar told reporters that Pyongyang had intended to send a high-ranking official before cancelling at the last minute.

It is the first time that North Korea has not attended the annual international conference.

Officials from Japan and North Korea had met on the sidelines of the annual security conference last year. But at the time, Tokyo had demanded Pyongyang repatriate all Japanese abductees.