After 4 years, China's top diplomat visits South Korea to mend ties

Sangmi Cha, Reuters

Posted at Dec 04 2019 02:54 PM

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (center) is surrounded by journalists after talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the latter's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, November 25, 2019. Kimimasa Mayama/Pool via Reuters

SEOUL - China's top diplomat arrived in Seoul on Wednesday, visiting South Korea for the first time in more than four years as the two countries seek to repair ties that soured over the deployment of US anti-missile systems in South Korea.

During his two-day stay, the State Councilor Wang Yi will meet South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and President Moon Jae-in, officials in Seoul said.

Yi last visited the South Korean capital for a trilateral meeting also attended by Japan in 2015.

A year later, a row blew up over the planned sitting in South Korea of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, designed to intercept ballistic missiles.

Beijing said it upset the regional security balance as the system's powerful radar could penetrate into Chinese territory.

South Korea and the United States went ahead regardless, installing the anti-missile system in 2017, saying it was warranted because of North Korea's provocations.

North Korea has test-fired dozens of missiles since Moon Jae-in took office in 2017, most recently on the US Thanksgiving holiday last week.

South Korea sees China as instrumental in reviving stalled denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea, a longtime ally of Beijing.

The agenda for Yi's visit in Seoul is likely to include plans for a trilateral summit with Japan to be held in China later in December, a possible visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to South Korea, as well as the stalled denuclearization talks with North Korea, Yonhap news agency reported.

Denuclearization negotiations between North Korea and the United States have hit a stalemate after a day-long working-level meeting in October in Stockholm broke down.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has set a yearend deadline for Washington to reconsider its approach in denuclearization negotiations after the last talks ended in disagreement. US officials have downplayed the deadline, calling it artificial.

South Korea is seeking to open additional military hotlines with China to improve communications. The two countries' defense ministers discussed the issue on the sidelines of an international conference in Bangkok last month, Seoul's defense ministry said.