Yoon tells China’s No. 3 official that Thaad shouldn’t hamper relations

Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, left, shakes hands with Li Zhanshu, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China, during a meeting at the presidential office in Yongsan District, central Seoul, Friday. [PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE]

Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said the US-led Thaad (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) anti-missile system should not hamper bilateral ties during a meeting with Li Zhanshu, China’s third-highest ranking official, Friday.

Yoon also invited Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Seoul for the 70-minute meeting with Li, chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, at Yongsan’s presidential office in Seoul.

Contrary to expectations that the two sides would avoid sensitive diplomatic issues, Yoon told Li that the two sides needed to communicate closely “to ensure that Thaad does not become an obstacle to South Korea-China relations,” according to the office. Presidential of Yoon.

Li said there was a “need for close communication on mutually sensitive issues”, referring to Thaad’s question.

Yoon mentioned Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Qingdao last month, which conveyed a similar message about Thaad.

Seoul and Washington’s joint decision in 2016 to deploy the Thaad Battery and its installation in Seongju, North Gyeongsang, in 2017 drew strong protests from Beijing and economic retaliation against Korea.

China recently expressed concern that the Yoon government might expand Thaad’s deployment in Korea.

Beijing has urged Seoul to abide by the so-called “three no’s” pledge made by the Moon Jae-in administration in October 2017. The pledge stated that Korea would not make additional Thaad deployments, participate in a network of US missile defense and would not establish a US-Korean-Japan military alliance.

But Seoul’s foreign ministry stressed that the three no’s policy was not a formal commitment or agreement.

During their Friday talks, Yoon and Li also focused on North Korea’s issues. Yoon explained his intention to continue with his so-called “bold initiative” to bring peace and stability to the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia.

Last month, Yoon offered in a speech on Liberation Day his bold plan to help North Korea’s economy if Pyongyang takes substantial steps toward denuclearization.

Li replied that he now had a better understanding of the South Korean government’s initiative and would share it with Xi.

Yoon said Xi’s visit to South Korea would be “an important opportunity to usher in the next 30 years of Korea-China relations”, according to the presidential office.

Li said he would deliver the invitation to Xi and asked Yoon to come to China at a convenient time.

Yoon said it was necessary to “build mutually friendly feelings” by strengthening exchanges and communication between the two countries.

For his part, Li said China supports South Korea’s expanded role in the international community in line with its vision of becoming a global pivotal country and is willing to cooperate together to this end. Yoon replied that there are many areas of cooperation between Seoul and Beijing in the region and within the international community.

Despite fears that the Yoon administration is leaning more towards the United States amid Sino-American rivalry, simultaneous events in Seoul and Beijing were held on August 24 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations. , and Yoon and Xi exchanged personal information. letters.

In his letter, Yoon wrote that he hopes the two countries will “seek new directions of cooperation over the next 30 years” and “quantitatively develop ties” based on a “spirit of mutual respect and reciprocity.”

Xi last visited Korea in July 2014 during the Park Geun-hye administration.

The latest summit between the two countries’ leaders took place between Xi and President Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of a Korea-China-Japan summit in Beijing in December 2019.

Chinese news agency Xinhua reported on Saturday that Li, in his talks with Yoon, stressed the importance of economic and trade cooperation in bilateral relations and urged the two sides to further deepen such cooperation to “ensure the security and stability of industrial and supply chains, and jointly uphold the rules-based free trade system.”

It comes as the United States has pushed for a “Chip 4” alliance on semiconductor supply chains with South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, another issue China is concerned about.

Li, the most senior Chinese official to visit South Korea in recent times, led a 66-member delegation on a visit to Seoul from Thursday to Saturday at the invitation of National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo.

It was also the first visit by China’s top legislator to Korea since Zhang Dejiang’s trip in June 2015 during the Park Geun-hye administration.

Li and Chairman Kim held a joint meeting and press conference earlier Friday at the National Assembly in western Seoul and agreed on the need to strengthen strategic communications to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue and maintain peace on the Korean peninsula.

During their talks, Kim and Li also discussed the Thaad issue. Li said China’s opposition to Thaad’s deployment is not directed at South Korea but because “the United States has impure intentions to undermine China’s strategic and security interests.”

Kim replied that the Thaad system is a “means of self-defense to protect our people against serious nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, and it is not a means of threatening any third country.”

He added, “If the North Korean nuclear issue is resolved, the Thaad issue will be resolved naturally,” and asked for China’s cooperation so that “North Korea can take the path of dialogue and diplomacy.”

Later that night, Kim hosted a banquet at his residence to further discuss ways to strengthen ties between the two countries.

Li also visited the LG Sciencepark in Seoul’s western Gangseo district, the LG Group’s R&D center, a site also visited by US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in July.

Li met with former National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug, Kim’s predecessor, who visited China in February to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]