Many Chinese bigwigs are coming to Korea

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Many Chinese bigwigs are coming to Korea

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Chen Min’er

A stream of Chinese government officials will be visiting Korea in the upcoming weeks, including President Xi Jinping’s confidant, Chen Min’er, the Communist Party Secretary of Guizhou Province.

Over the next two months at least six Chinese provincial officials are expected to visit Korea, starting with Wang Xiankui, the party secretary of Heilongjiang Province in northeastern China, who will visit Seoul Sunday upon the invitation of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Wang is expected to focus on bolstering bilateral exchanges and will meet with Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn during his three-day visit.

Other provincial leaders heading to Korea include Chen, who comes from April 19 to 23, and Shi Taifeng, governor of Jiangsu province, for a five-day trip from May 11.

Li Xiaopeng, governor of Shanxi Province and son of former Chinese Premier Li Peng, Chen Run’er, governor of Henan Province, Lu Xinshe, governor of Jiangxi Province, and Chen Hao, governor of Yunnan Province, are also planning visits to Korea over May and June.

“Top Chinese officials are strictly limited to one overseas trip per year,” an official of the Korean Embassy in China said. “Over the next two months, leaders of six or seven out of China’s 31 provincial-level regions will be visiting Korea. This is very rare and an indication that the base of South Korea-China ties has expanded to a regional level.”

In comparison, only three Chinese provincial leaders visited Korea last year.

Chen’s visit is attracting special interest because there is speculation that he could become a front-runner as Xi’s successor in four years’ time.

Chen worked closely with Xi during his time as party chief in the affluent Zhejiang province in eastern China between 2002 and 2007. During that time, Chen was director of the Propaganda Department of the Zhejiang Provincial Party Committee.

The Zhejiang Daily, the Zhejiang Provincial Party Committee’s official newspaper, carried a series of articles from February 2003 to March 2007 by “Zhexin,” the pen name of Xi Jinping.

Previously Chen was the chief editor of the Zhejiang Daily. He took over the governorship of Guizhou Province in late 2012 and became the provincial party chief in July 2013.

“Secretary Chen was invited by the South Chungcheong Provincial Government as part of an agreement during the Korea-China leaders’ summit to expand exchanges in humanities,” the official at the embassy in China added. “However, because of his status, there have been many key government officials who have requested to meet him.”

Chen’s meeting on April 22 with South Chungcheong Gov. Ahn Hee-jung, a possible presidential contender, will be closely observed as both are considered dark horse candidates for the next-generation leadership.

During his visit, Chen is expected to focus on expanding cooperation between Guizhou Province and Korea.

Guizhou is a province that has been underdeveloped because 70 percent of its terrain is mountainous. Thus, it looks to both Switzerland and South Korea as development models.

Li and other provincial governments are expected to take part in an inaugural conference between Korean and Chinese regional leaders to be held here in early June. This Korea-China governors’ conference is expected to be held every two years and alternate between Korea and China.

BY YEH YOUNG-JUNE, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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