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Seoul, Beijing agree to closely cooperate on North Korea

South Korea and China have agreed to work closely to achieve their common goal of North Korea’s denuclearization, the foreign ministry here said Tuesday.

During the annual vice ministerial talks held in Beijing a day earlier, the two sides reaffirmed that “the denuclearization of North Korea and peace and stability of the Korean peninsula are the two countries’ strategic goals,” and agreed upon the need for “a frank dialogue and close cooperation,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The Strategic Dialogue, the fifth of its kind, was led by South Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Ahn Ho-young and China’s Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun, according to the ministry.

This year’s meeting marks the first high-level meeting since Beijing entered the era of its new leader Xi Jinping, who assumed the posts of China’s Communist Party leader and head of the military commission earlier this month.

Assessing achievements in bilateral relations for the past 20 years, the two sides agreed “to strengthen communication to further develop the strategic partnership at this critical time of leadership changes,” according to the ministry.

They also shared views on promoting negotiations for a bilateral free trade deal, it added.

In May, Seoul and Beijing announced the launch of formal free trade negotiations, expecting the talks to take two years.

China is the largest buyer of South Korean-made goods and has contributed to Seoul’s sizable trade surplus in recent years, while South Korea is China’s third-largest trading partner after the United States and Japan. Bilateral trade reached $188.4 billion last year. Both countries are expecting the volume to top $300 billion in 2015.

During the talks, China reportedly repeated its request for the extradition of its citizen named Liu Qiang, who is serving a prison term in Seoul for attacking the Japanese embassy in South Korea in January to protest against Tokyo’s refusal to apologize for its war crimes.

Upon learning that he led a separate arson attack on Japan’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine in December, both Japan and China have asked South Korea to hand him over.

The shrine is dedicated to 2.5 million Japanese killed in wars ― including top war criminals ― and is often seen as a symbol of the country’s wartime aggression.

Seoul’s Ministry of Justice requested his extradition to Japan, and the Seoul High Court will make the final decision, with the first hearing to be held later this week. (Yonhap News)