SEOUL - China's top legislator, Mr Li Zhanshu, is set to arrive in Seoul on Thursday and meet South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who has sought to assure Beijing that his push to deepen ties with the United States is not a threat.
On Wednesday, Mr Yoon's office said that it was seeking to arrange a meeting with Mr Li for Friday, but that final details were being worked out.
Mr Li, chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee and currently ranked No. 3 in the Communist Party of China, is also scheduled to meet the speaker of South Korea's national assembly.
Seoul is trying to manage its alliance with the United States and its relationship with China, South Korea's top trade partner, amid their intensifying rivalry.
Mr Yoon has made strengthening ties with Washington a cornerstone of efforts to deter North Korea, but has insisted that none of its steps exclude or oppose Beijing.
Mr Yoon's expected meeting with Mr Li comes after the South Korean president was criticised, including by lawmakers in his ruling party, for not meeting US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during her trip last month that included a stop in self-ruled Taiwan to the fury of China.
Mrs Pelosi met the leaders of Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Japan during her trip.
Mr Yoon, who was in Seoul but on vacation, had a phone call with her instead. His office said that the decision was made in consideration of national interests, and that there was no pressure from China, which welcomed the first high-level delegation from Mr Yoon's administration days later.
"I think the South Korean government is moving carefully to ensure that it ticks all of the appropriate protocol boxes with Li's visit, especially with China-South Korea relations at such a delicate stage," said Mr Evans Revere, a former US diplomat who has served in Seoul.
Mr Yoon is making the effort to meet Mr Li because of strong ties with the United States, not despite them, said Mr Zhao Tong, a security scholar with Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"The Yoon administration prioritises substantive strategic cooperation with the United States but at the same time seeks an image of maintaining a balanced relationship between Washington and Beijing," he said. REUTERS