Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi visits South Korea after 4-year gap to mend ties

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrives at Incheon International Airport, South Korea, on Dec 4, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (REUTERS) - The top diplomat in China's government arrived in Seoul on Wednesday (Dec 4), visiting South Korea for the first time in more than four years as the countries seek to repair ties that soured over the deployment of US anti-missile systems in South Korea.

During his two-day stay, State Councillor Wang Yi will meet South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and President Moon Jae-in, officials in Seoul said.

Mr Wang last visited the South Korean capital 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 into Chinese territory.

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

"The ice is melting between the two countries, but spring has not yet arrived," Renmin University of China Associate Professor Cheng Xiaohe said in comments carried by the Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party.

"The toughest time for bilateral relations has passed, but some problems caused by the deployment of the Thaad system in South Korea remain," Prof Cheng said.

North Korea has test fired dozens of missiles since Mr Moon Jae-in took office in 2017, most recently on the US Thanksgiving holiday last week.

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

The agenda for Mr Wang's visit in Seoul is likely to include plans for a trilateral summit with Japan to be held in China later in December, a possible visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to South Korea, as well as the stalled denuclearisation talks with North Korea, Yonhap news agency reported.

Denuclearisation negotiations between North Korea and the United States have 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 in denuclearisation negotiations after the last talks ended in disagreement.

US officials have downplayed the deadline, calling it artificial.

South Korea is seeking to open additional military hotlines with China to improve communications.

The two countries' defence ministers discussed the issue on the sidelines of an international conference in Bangkok last month, Seoul's Defence Ministry said.

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