Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday expressed his hopes for a prompt return to the “normal orbit” of relations with South Korea which have been strained by disputes over a US missile shield, Seoul’s special envoy said.
Xi delivered the message during his 40-minute meeting with Lee Hae-chan, a former prime minister and incumbent lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party who is visiting Beijing as President Moon Jae-in’s special envoy.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) shakes hands with South Korea's presidential envoy Lee Hae-chan before holding a meeting in Beijing on May 19, 2017. (Yonhap)
“China highly regards relations with South Korea as does South Korea,” Xi was quoted as saying. “We hope to put the two countries’ relationship back on normal track as soon as possible by building mutual political trust and manage conflicts, building on mutual understanding and respect as well as the achievements we have made so far together with South Korea.”
Lee called for “close communications” to tackle the brawls over the deployment of the US’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in South Korea, saying Seoul has “sufficient understanding” about Beijing’s concerns.
China argues the assets, especially the radar, are designed to keep it in check and thus pose a threat to its strategic interests.
Following monthslong tension, signs of a thaw have been rising in the wake of Moon’s swearing-in. Earlier Friday, Chinese State Councilor for Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi acknowledged Seoul’s concern about the economic retaliation and promised “active efforts” to address it, delegation member DPK lawmaker Shim Jae-kwon said.
Lee also delivered Moon’s letter, expressing his gratitude for last week’s phone call and congratulations on the president’s inauguration.
“I proposed announcing a peace doctrine for East Asia and the Korean Peninsula when President Xi visits for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics (next year), and his look became brighter,” the envoy told reporters after the talks.
“I also offered to pursue a free trade agreement on the service sector.”
The sides tentatively agreed to arrange the face-to-face talks between Moon and Xi on the sidelines of the Group of 20 conference in July in Hamburg, Germany. Moon would also visit Beijing for a standalone summit around the 25th anniversary of the relationship’s establishment on Aug. 24, Lee noted.
China’s Foreign Ministry also said Xi reaffirmed the country’s commitment to a nuclear-free Korea and the resolution of the issue through dialogue and negotiations, in line with Moon’s pursuit.
“China hopes to reinforce communications with the new South Korean government, and swiftly restart dialogue and negotiations so as to ease the situation and achieve the denuclearization of the peninsula,” the ministry said in a statement.