China urges cooperation as South Korea’s new president takes office

·3-min read

China’s vice-president has told South Korea’s new leader that Beijing hopes for more strategic communication and high-level exchanges, a message delivered after he attended Yoon Suk-yeol’s inauguration in Seoul on Tuesday.

Wang Qishan said South Korea and China “are important cooperation partners as well as close neighbours” with common interests, and should strengthen communication and coordination on international and regional affairs, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

“The two sides should … work together to safeguard multilateralism and the free-trade system, and promote regional and global development and prosperity,” Wang told Yoon after delivering a congratulatory message as special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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He called for more cooperation between the trading partners in key areas and third-party markets.

After being sworn in, South Korean leader Yoon Suk-yeol (left) meets special envoy Wang Qishan (right) at the presidential office in Seoul. Photo: AFP
After being sworn in, South Korean leader Yoon Suk-yeol (left) meets special envoy Wang Qishan (right) at the presidential office in Seoul. Photo: AFP

Wang also said the two neighbours should take advantage of their close geographical proximity, shared cultural heritage and traditional ties to improve the friendship between the two nations.

And he pledged more cooperation with the South on “sensitive issues” such as North Korea.

“China sincerely supports the improvement of relations between the North and the South … and the promotion of reconciliation and cooperation, and is willing to strengthen communication with South Korea to promote denuclearisation and lasting peace on the peninsula,” Wang said.

Yoon agreed to continue close communication at a high strategic level and to further strengthen exchanges and cooperation in various fields, boost people-to-people exchanges and promote a new era in relations, according to the Xinhua report.

“South Korea is willing to strengthen communication and coordination with China to jointly promote peace, stability and prosperity on the peninsula,” Yoon was quoted as saying.

China’s vice-president on rare trip abroad to woo South Korean leader

Vice-President Wang is the highest-level Chinese leader to attend a South Korean presidential inauguration – previously Beijing has sent lower ranking officials such as its vice-premier or state councillor.

The US delegation, meanwhile, was led by Douglas Emhoff, husband of Vice-President Kamala Harris, while Japan sent Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.

Chinese leaders have made few overseas trips since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and analysts said Wang’s attendance at the inauguration reflected the importance Beijing attaches to relations with Seoul at a time of heightened tensions with Western countries – particularly the US – and an economic slowdown at home.

The relationship between Beijing and Seoul has been strained since South Korea in 2017 deployed the US THAAD missile defence system, which China saw as a security threat. Yoon is a conservative who is expected to take a more hardline position on China.

US President Joe Biden will visit South Korea to meet Yoon on May 21 before travelling to Japan to meet Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

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