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Xi Jinping affirms visit to Korea this year, timing remains undecided

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (Left) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping in their summit at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in December, 2019. (Yonhap)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (Left) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping in their summit at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in December, 2019. (Yonhap)

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Seoul reiterated Chinese President Xi Jinping is planning to visit Seoul by the end of the year.

But the exact schedule of the visit has not yet been fixed, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

“We will continue to negotiate while evaluating the coronavirus situation,” said spokesman Kim In-chul in a regular briefing.

On Wednesday during their roughly 30-minute phone conference, Xi told South Korean President Moon Jae-in that there was no change in his plan to visit South Korea within this year. Moon responded that Xi’s visit is “more important than any other thing” to Seoul-Beijing bilateral relations, according to Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Kang Min-seok.

Moon requested Xi to visit Seoul sometime early this year when they met for a summit in Beijing last December. At the time, the Chinese leader had said he would “actively consider it.”

Since then, Seoul has been putting all-out efforts to make Xi’s visit happen, which was speculated to be around March or April. But due to the global coronavirus outbreak that hit both countries hard, the plan was put off indefinitely. With both Beijing and Seoul recently experiencing a resurgence of virus after restrictions were eased, the visit could be further delayed.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha in April told lawmakers that the chances of Xi’s visit in the first half of the year became more unlikely as the two countries are both battling coronavirus.

The reason why Seoul is determined to host Chinese leader here is Moon had visited China two times in 2017 and 2019, since he assumed power in 2017, while Xi hadn’t made a reciprocal visit yet. Also, Xi’s Seoul visit, will also be his first in six years, and widely expected to bring about a thaw in Seoul-Beijing relations, which have been chilly since South Korea’s decision in 2017 to host an advanced missile system from the US, which China sees as a security threat.

Xi had also planned to visit Japan in April, but that was postponed due to the coronavirus spread.

During the phone conversation, made at Xi’s request, the Chinese leader praised both countries’ efforts to curb the virus.

“As good neighbors, our countries have become a model for international quarantine cooperation,” said Xi.

Meanwhile Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is also expected to visit here in the latter half of the year as Seoul is hosting the three-way talks between Korea, China and Japan. The ministry, however, added the timing of the visit remains undecided. 

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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