Blue House denies Xi’s visit is delayed to late 2020

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Blue House denies Xi’s visit is delayed to late 2020

The Blue House on Tuesday denied a media report that the government has decided to delay Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Korea to the second half of this year.

“The two countries’ positions remain unchanged that Xi’s visit will take place this year at an earliest possible date,” a presidential aide told reporters this year. “We will continue talks to arrange the visit, while observing the situation of the coronavirus outbreak.

“I express regret that the report largely distorted the truth,” he continued. The official, however, did not say when Xi will visit Korea.

Earlier in the day, the Chosun Ilbo reported that the Moon Jae-in administration has reached the conclusion that Xi’s visit should be postponed, despite an earlier plan to arrange the event before the end of June. The conservative newspaper quoted government and diplomatic sources in the exclusive report.

A diplomatic source told the Chosun Ilbo that growing anti-China sentiment in Korea since the coronavirus outbreak was taken into account.

“The government’s official position will be that Xi’s visit plan has not changed, but officials in Seoul and Beijing have reached a consensus to adjust the timing,” a government source was quoted as saying.

At a Korea-China summit in Beijing last December, Moon asked Xi to visit Korea during the first quarter of 2020. When the two countries started discussing a schedule at the beginning of this year, before the deadly coronavirus outbreaks swept the world, Xi was expected to visit Korea in March.

In February, Presidential Chief of Staff Noh Young-min said in a radio interview that Xi was scheduled to visit in the first half of this year, indicating that the visit would take place sometime after March but before the end of June.

The pandemic put a serious damper on Moon’s efforts to restore ties with China using Xi’s trip as a turning point. Bilateral relations with China have been chilly since the U.S. deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system in Korea in 2016.

The Moon administration faced domestic criticism for not imposing an entry ban on all travelers from China at the early stage of the outbreak. Critics said it bent over backwards to ensure Xi’s visit.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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