Korea gauges China’s new leadership

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Korea gauges China’s new leadership


Hu Jintao, left, and Xi Jinping attend the first meeting of the presidium of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China on Wednesday at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. [AP /YONHAP]

The new leadership in Beijing is expected to strengthen economic ties with South Korea, but political relations may be challenged by disagreements over North Korea, analysts said yesterday.

China’s ruling Communist Party opened a week-long congress that will allow incumbent President Hu Jintao to transfer power to his assumed heir, current Vice President Xi Jinping.

Analysts said Xi is keen to maintain good ties with the South, while all the likely members of the new political bureau standing committee, the core power group, have paid visits to South Korea.

Foreign relations officials also expect the new administration may expedite ongoing South Korea-China talks on forging a free trade agreement.

“China’s next leadership has a high level of understanding about South Korea and may step up efforts to boost exchanges with its neighbor for practical reasons,” a foreign affairs official said on condition of anonymity. “Forging ahead with the free trade agreement may also solidify the two countries’ ties.”

Analysts stressed, however, that the two countries need to improve political and security relations, which remain weaker than economic ties. Fine-tuning policy stances toward North Korea would be the key to successfully strengthening those relations, they said.

China’s forced repatriation of North Korean defectors has long drawn criticism from South Korea, while increasing China-North Korean economic cooperation is raising alarm bells in Seoul.

Worsening South-North relations have also weighed on the South’s relations with China, the North’s closest ally and patron. “How our government leads its policies toward the North is important in managing relations with China,” said Hong Hyun-ik, an analyst at the Sejong Institute. Yonhap

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