The decision was made at a meeting in Busan between China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi and Suh Hoon, President Moon Jae-in’s national security adviser, according to a statement from the Blue House, the South Korean presidential palace.
The two sides will make arrangements as soon as the pandemic eases and creates the “right environment”, Blue House spokesman Kang Min-seok said.
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“China confirmed South Korea is at the top of the list of countries that President Xi will visit,” Suh said.
Xi was set to visit earlier in the year but his trip was cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Yang, who is a member of the Politburo and director of the Communist Party’s foreign affairs commission, is the first official to visit South Korea since the start of the health crisis.
Yang also briefed Suh on China’s disputes with the Trump administration, the Blue House said.
Suh responded by saying“co-prosperity and friendly cooperation” between Washington and Beijing were critical for northeast Asia and the world.
A report by China’s state news agency Xinhua did not mention Xi’s trip, but said the two sides had pledged to strengthen high-level exchanges.
Yang told Suh that China wanted to bolster strategic communication and also foster economic ties to push their partnership “to a new high,” Xinhua reported.
Cheng Xiaohe, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said the choice of South Korea for Xi’s first post-pandemic visit was a significant one.
“This shows diplomatic ties between Beijing and Seoul have been restored to a large degree while highlighting the delicate position South Korea now stands in between China and the US,” Cheng said.
Relations between the two countries have improved since Moon came to power in 2017.
His predecessor Park Geun-hye had angered China by allowing the installation of a US anti-missile defence system, prompting an economic boycott that hit many South Korean businesses.
Cheng said the two countries’ cooperation in controlling Covid-19 and Seoul’s neutral stance in the dispute between the US and China were among the main factors in picking South Korea as the destination for Xi’s visit.
“Being an US ally, it remains a huge diplomatic challenge for Seoul to strike a balance between China and US as ties continue to worsen,” Cheng said.
“South Korea’s diplomatic room for manoeuvre is limited as it still looks to the US to maintain regional security. But it will be enough for Beijing if Seoul maintains a neutral stance.”
Xi had planned to visit Japan earlier this year but the visit was called off as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.
It has since been postponed indefinitely amid Japanese criticism of Beijing’s handling of Hong Kong, including the introduction of a national security law.
Cheng said Yang’s visit to Busan was “definitely a highlight for China in light of its recent lacklustre diplomatic progress”.
Lu Chao, a specialist in Korean affairs from the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences，said the visit by China’s top diplomat came at a critical time.
“Should President Xi Jinping go ahead as expected with a state visit to South Korea after stabilising the pandemic, it will be very important for China as the nation Xi picks for his first post-pandemic state visit reflects its important diplomatic status with China,” Lu said.
“Stabilising ties with South Korea on all fronts is vital at a time when ongoing trade frictions and bilateral ties with the US are worsening.”
Lu also said China must continue to work to secure regional stability following a recent joint US-South Korean military exercise and work to keep North Korea on the path of denuclearisation.
Suh said South Korea would continue with its diplomatic efforts to resume dialogue with North Korea, and nudge Pyongyang towards denuclearisation.
Yang said he appreciated South Korea’s efforts to promote peace on the Korean peninsula and promised “constant communication and cooperation” on the denuclearisation issue, according to Kang.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Coronavirus likely to be on agenda as China’s top diplomat heads to South Korea
- Beijing sends its top diplomat to Singapore and South Korea amid US tensions
- Donald Trump the deal maker may look to North Korea for US election ‘October surprise’
This article Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit South Korea ‘as soon as Covid-19 under control’, Seoul says first appeared on South China Morning Post