President Moon Jae-in will receive visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Xi at Cheong Wa Dae on Thursday afternoon, the presidential office said Wednesday.
Wang arrived here late Wednesday after stopping over in Japan. On Thursday, he is to have a luncheon with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and dinner with Lee Hae-chan, a key figure in Moon’s inner circle who served as special envoy to China and later headed the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.
Wang is scheduled to leave Friday, after meeting in the morning with Moon Chung-in, Moon’s special security adviser and a longtime scholar who favors engagement with North Korea and a strategic partnership with China.
Wang’s trip comes as the region embraces the changes an incoming Joe Biden administration could bring amid the escalating US-China rivalry. Biden appears set to pull Seoul closer to its anti-Beijing coalition.
The trip, which follows the last one a year earlier, aims to make way for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit here. A meeting had been discussed earlier, but was postponed over the coronavirus pandemic.
Wang, who is also state councilor, is expected to spell out his country’s position on the US-China rivalry and to ask for Seoul’s understanding of Beijing’s concerns as the rivalry intensifies.
Xi’s trip will also be on the agenda for Thursday, but experts said setting a date this year could prove to be tricky given the worsening pandemic both in Korea and China. Foreign Minister Kang told the parliament a week earlier that the trip would follow once the COVID-19 situation had stabilized.
Experts speculate that even if Xi travels here by the end of this year, Seoul does not stand to gain much, as Beijing still looks reserved on lifting all sanctions against Korea over its deployment of the US anti-missile system called THAAD.
Seoul has had to endure economic retaliation from Beijing since putting the system into operation in April 2017, intent to intercept incoming fire from Pyongyang. Beijing claims the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense radar is powerful enough to penetrate its territory.
A month later in May 2017, Lee Hae-chan, President Moon’s special envoy, traveled to China and met Wang to mend fraying ties. The two neighboring countries have yet to fully iron out differences over THAAD, though they made some progress in easing sanctions on some fronts.
Wang is also set to exchange views on the stalled North Korean nuclear talks.
Wang’s trip marks the second visit by a senior Chinese diplomat to Korea since the coronavirus emerged in China late last year.
Yang Jiechi, a member of the Communist Party Politburo, visited Busan in August and met with the chief of Seoul’s National Intelligence Service and went over similar issues.
By Choi Si-young (firstname.lastname@example.org