Top China diplomat in South Korea after four-year gap to mend ties

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (right) with Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi during their meeting in Seoul yesterday. PHOTO: REUTERS
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (right) with Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi during their meeting in Seoul yesterday. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL • South Korea said it would seek China's help to denuclearise the Korean peninsula as one of Beijing's most senior diplomats arrived in Seoul yesterday to repair ties that soured over the deployment of US anti-missile systems in 2017.

Making his first visit to the South Korean capital in more than four years, China's State Councillor Wang Yi, who also serves as foreign minister, met South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.

He is set to meet President Moon Jae-in today.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that the agenda for meetings was likely to include plans for a trilateral summit with Japan to be held in China later this month, a possible visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping and the stalled denuclearisation talks with North Korea.

Calling the two countries "close neighbours, friends and partners", Mr Wang said they should work together to keep "regional peace and stability", according to the Yonhap report.

Ms Kang said she looked forward to exchanging ideas to promote economic, environmental and cultural cooperation, as well as "ways to work together to establish denuclearisation and peace on the Korean peninsula".

South Korea sees China as instrumental in reviving stalled denuclearisation talks between the United States and North Korea, a long-time ally of Beijing.

Negotiations between the North and the US hit a stalemate after a day-long, working-level meeting in October in Stockholm broke down.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has set a year-end deadline for Washington to reconsider its approach to talks.

US officials have downplayed the deadline, calling it artificial.

Mr Wang last visited Seoul for a trilateral meeting, also attended by Japan, in 2015.

A year later, a row blew up over the planned siting in South Korea of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system, designed to intercept ballistic missiles.

Beijing said it upset the regional security balance as the system's powerful radar could penetrate Chinese territory.

South Korea and the US went ahead regardless, installing the anti-missile system in 2017, saying that it was warranted because of North Korea's provocations.

South Korea is also seeking to open additional military hotlines with China after their defence ministers discussed the issue on the sidelines of an international conference in Bangkok last month.

The state-run Global Times tabloid quoted a Chinese academic as saying that ties with South Korea had begun to thaw, despite the remaining problems of the Thaad deployment.

"The ice is melting between the two countries, but spring has not yet arrived," Renmin University of China Associate Professor Cheng Xiaohe said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2019, with the headline 'Top China diplomat in S. Korea after four-year gap to mend ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe