South Korean special envoy Lee Hae-chan (L) meets China’s President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JASON LEE
Chinese President Xi Jinping told a South Korean envoy on Friday he was willing to put relations back on a “normal track” amid tensions over a US anti-missile system deployed on the Korean peninsula.
In an apparent fence-mending move, South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-In dispatched his envoy Lee Hae-Chan to China after his election victory last week.
“We’re willing to work with South Korea to preserve the hard-won results, properly handle disputes, put China-South Korea relations back onto a normal track,” Xi said as he greeted Lee in Beijing.
“Your visit to China to step up the communication on important issues related to bilateral relations… shows President Moon and his administration have attached high importance to our ties,” Xi said.
For his part, Lee said Moon asked him to express his “gratitude” to Xi for his message of congratulations after the election.
Ties between the two countries have soured in recent months over the deployment of the powerful Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) shield in South Korea, which Beijing sees as a threat to its own military capability.
THAAD is aimed at guarding against threats from nuclear-armed North Korea, but China fears it will upset the regional security balance.
Lee met separately with other senior Chinese officials, who had more forceful words for the South Korean visitor.
China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, called on Seoul on Friday to “respect China’s major concerns and properly handle the issue of the deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defence system,” according to the official Xinhua new agency.
On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Lee that Seoul must “remove the obstacles that have been placed on the road to good relations between our two countries”.
Left-leaning Moon and Xi spoke on the phone last week and both agreed that denuclearising the North was a “common goal” between them, Moon’s spokesman said.
Tensions have been running high in the region, with Pyongyang launching what appeared to be its longest-range missile yet on Sunday.
The United Nations Security Council met behind closed doors on Tuesday to discuss tightening sanctions on North Korea.