Sino-Korea relations on track: Official

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Sino-Korea relations on track: Official

BEIJING - China and Korea should avoid variables that harm bilateral relations, which have improved following tensions over the deployment of a U.S. antimissile system, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official said last week.

The official told Korean reporters on May 28 in Beijing, “Scholars indicate that South Korea and China, under difficult conditions, are heading toward developing normalized relations after the Thaad [terminal high altitude area defense antimissile system], issue, so a new variable should not come into the picture.”

China strongly protested the deployment of the American Thaad antimissile system in Korea, though it was eventually installed in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, in 2017. In turn, Korean businesses suffered due to the frayed relations.

While bilateral relations have gotten back on track since then, Seoul has been concerned about getting caught up in the middle of the unfolding U.S.-China trade dispute and the impact it may have on Korean businesses. The official said, under such circumstances, he believes that “the Korean government will make the right judgement” and “see the issue squarely.”

He added that in his view, “the Korean government and Korean companies will determine what is right and what is not right.”

The official, who is familiar with Korean Peninsula affairs, also gave an assessment of the currently stalled denuclearization negotiations between North Korea and the United States.

North Korea’s short-range missile launches last month were likely “a demonstration of dissatisfaction at the lack of progress in the North-U.S. talks,” said the official, and “signifies a demand for the United States to change its attitude.”

The official said that South Korean and U.S. governments have agreed to “respond level-headedly while putting weight on dialogue.”

Likewise, China maintains its position that calls for both the suspension of the South Korea-U.S. military drills and North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing, he said. He continued, “If it is difficult for the United States to show magnanimity as the strong country and take the first action, it has to at least take simultaneous measures.”

“North Korea exploded its Punggye-ri nuclear test site [last year] and halted its nuclear testing, but in its position may think it gained nothing in its hands,” the official said, adding that sanctions relief may be its biggest concern at this point.

The official maintained that “sanctions are not the end goal” and that “dialogue should be the means to resolve the problem.”

However, he said that “China will not close its eyes just because North Korea is a friendly nation,” as China’s position is that peace, stability and denuclearization has to be achieved on the Korean Peninsula.

On the collapse of the summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam, late February, the official noted that the two sides were “not able to reach a deal on sanctions relief and corresponding measures and ended without producing good results like the first summit in Singapore.”

But he said that Trump says that “he has good relations with Chairman Kim Jong-un, so while we may have difficulties for the time being, we look forward to the resumption of the North-U.S. dialogue.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in made a visit to Beijing in December 2017, and Chinese President Xi Jinping has been expected to make a reciprocal visit to Seoul later this year.

But the official said that despite continuous communication through their foreign ministries on such a visit, “There are no concrete details to share at the moment” on when Xi will travel to Seoul.

Likewise, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un since last year has made four visits to China for summits with Xi, leading to speculation on whether the Chinese leader will pay a visit to Seoul or Pyongyang first.

The official pointed out that Xi doesn’t necessarily have to visit Pyongyang and Seoul back-to-back and that the order is something that will “depend on the situation at that time.”

Such a visit by Xi, he said “will be an important opportunity for not just bilateral relations but for pushing the denuclearization process.”

He continued, “The South Korean and Chinese governments need to put in effort together to create a constructive opportunity [to resolve] the North Korean issue and plan for a Korean Peninsula peace process.”

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