Xi to visit Korea soon after Covid-19 pandemic subsides: Blue House

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Xi to visit Korea soon after Covid-19 pandemic subsides: Blue House

Suh Hoon, left, director of the Blue House National Security Office, and Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China's Central Committee, shake hands in front of Haeundae Beach after talks at the Westin Chosun Hotel in Busan on Saturday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

Suh Hoon, left, director of the Blue House National Security Office, and Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China's Central Committee, shake hands in front of Haeundae Beach after talks at the Westin Chosun Hotel in Busan on Saturday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

 
Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Korea "at an early date" once the coronavirus pandemic stabilizes, the Blue House said Saturday, following talks between a Chinese Communist Party Politburo member and Seoul’s top security adviser.  
 
Yang Jiechi, considered China’s top diplomat and the director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission, kicked off a two-day visit to Korea Friday afternoon.
 
Suh Hoon, the new director of the Blue House National Security Office, and Yang held four-hour talks starting at around 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning at the Westin Chosun Hotel in Busan, followed by a luncheon meeting. The Blue House said the two spent nearly six hours together and discussed a range of issues including joint responses to Covid-19, high-level exchanges and matters of bilateral interest, as well as the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
 
Blue House spokesman Kang Min-seok said Saturday that the two sides agreed to realize President Xi’s “early visit to Korea when the condition is created and the Covid-19 situation stabilized.”  
 
The Chinese side said that “Korea is prioritized as a country to visit by President Xi,” Kang said, but added, “the exact timing of the visit will continue to be discussed between diplomatic authorities.”  
 
Xi had initially been expected to make a visit to Korea in the spring, but the trip was postponed after the outbreak of the coronavirus.  
 
“We had a comprehensive and plentiful dialogue on all topics over an extended period of time today,” Suh said after the talks Saturday.  
 
According to the Blue House, Suh said that the South Korean government “will continue diplomatic efforts for progress in the Korean Peninsula peace process.” In turn, Yang was said to have pledged “continued communication and cooperation on the denuclearization and establishment of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.”  
 
They also discussed pushing along the second phase of their bilateral FTA negotiations, signing a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) within the year and Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee bid to become World Trade Organization (WTO) chief.  
 
Seoul has often been put in a difficult position regarding Sino-U.S. tensions, and may be pressured to choose sides amid a recent escalation in security and trade conflicts between China and the United States.  
 
The Blue House said that Yang “explained the situation in U.S.-China relations and the Chinese side’s position.” Yang’s latest remarks could have been interpreted as asking Seoul to at least maintain its neutrality.  
 
“A relationship of co-prosperity and friendly cooperation between the United States and China is important for the peace and prosperity of Northeast Asia and the world," the Blue House quoted Suh as saying.
 
The two sides also discussed holding a trilateral summit between Korea, China and Japan within this year. Korea is this year’s host of the three-way summit, generally held annually, which would bring together President Moon Jae-in, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
 
Yang also emphasized the significance of holding the meeting with Suh on the eve of the 28th anniversary of the establishment of formal bilateral relations between Seoul and Beijing, which falls on Monday.  
 
Yang last visited Seoul more than two years ago, in July 2018.  
 
Moon visited Beijing in December 2017, but Xi has yet to reciprocate with a visit to Seoul.  
 
Xi last visited Seoul in July 2014 and has yet to make a trip since bilateral tensions escalated over the deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system to Korea in 2017. Beijing strongly protested the Thaad deployment, which it saw as a threat to its strategic interests, and imposed unofficial economic retaliatory measures on Korea. The two countries have since been mending relations.  
 
Because he was in close contact with the Chinese delegation, Suh received a coronavirus test at the hotel. If he tests negative, he is expected to still spend five days in self-isolation in Seoul.  
 
BY SARAH KIM   [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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