China has invited South Korea to join a forum on Beijing's regional economic development plan in what appears to be a move to mend the bilateral relationship following the inauguration of new President Moon Jae-in in Seoul, a government official said Friday.
The delegation to be led by Rep. Park Byeong-seug of the Democratic Party will leave for Beijing on Saturday to attend the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation that will kick off on Sunday for a two-day run, according to the official.
"An official invitation came from China recently," he said on condition of anonymity. "We decided to send a delegation comprised of Rep. Park and other government officials."
Park, a five-term veteran lawmaker, served as co-chairman of Moon's presidential campaign team.
His delegation is expected to meet key Chinese government officials on the sidelines of the forum to discuss ways to repair their bilateral ties strained over the deployment of a US missile defense system in South Korea, the official said, adding an encounter with North Korean participants may not be ruled out.
The forum is part of China's so-called "One Belt, One Road" project that focuses on its economic connectivity and cooperation with the countries in Eurasia and as far as Europe and Africa. It was suggested by President Xi Jinping in 2013.
In the past, China didn't ask Seoul to join the forum under the previous Park Geun-hye government despite invitations sent to dozens of countries including North Korea.
Moon was sworn in as new South Korean president on Wednesday, filling the leadership vacuum prompted by the ouster of Park over a massive scandal. Experts see it as a sign that China is reaching out to South Korea amid friction over the missile system deployment.
The two Asian neighbors have experienced a chill in relations as Beijing has strongly opposed the installation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery for fear it could hurt its security and carried out retaliatory economic measures against South Korean businesses.
On Thursday, Moon and Xi had a phone conversation and agreed to improve the two countries' ties and cooperate over North Korea's denuclearization. (Yonhap)