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Foreign ministry calls on Chinese envoy to be 'cautious' after remarks on presidential front-runner

Chinese Ambassador to South Korea Xing Haiming (Yonhap)
Chinese Ambassador to South Korea Xing Haiming (Yonhap)

South Korea's foreign ministry made an implicit call Saturday for Chinese Ambassador to South Korea Xing Haiming to be "cautious" after his comments on a presidential front-runner raised questions over whether they could amount to political interference.

In a contribution to the local daily Joong-Ang Ilbo on Friday, Xing rebutted remarks by Yoon Seok-youl, a conservative presidential hopeful, from a recent interview about missile defense as "hardly understandable." Yoon had said that China should first remove its long-range radar systems on its border if it wants a U.S. anti-missile system, called THAAD, to be withdrawn from South Korea.

Seoul and Washington said the missile defense system deployed in 2017 is only meant to counter North Korea's evolving nuclear and missile threats.

But China has repeatedly pressed South Korea to withdraw the missile system, claiming it could hurt Beijing's security interests.

Xing's contribution triggered criticism, with some arguing that his remarks on a prominent South Korean politician could affect the March 9 presidential vote to pick a successor to President Moon Jae-in.

"Our government's position on the THAAD deployment remains unchanged," a ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

"Given that the public expression of an opinion by a foreign diplomatic mission regarding remarks by a politician of a host nation could have a negative effect on the development of relations between the two countries, there is a need to be cautious," he added.

In the interview with Joong-Ang Ilbo published on Thursday, Yoon stressed the need to strengthen cooperation with countries sharing the same values "based on the South Korea-U.S. alliance" -- an indication of his support for a stronger partnership with Washington. (Yonhap)