The presidential office said Sunday that it will lead efforts to facilitate a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, a day after the Chinese leader said he will “seriously consider it” during talks with Prime Minister Han Duck-soo held on the sidelines of the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.
The dialogue, which took place hours ahead of the games’ opening ceremony, centered on bolstering exchanges, an agreement reached earlier this month when President Yoon Suk Yeol met with China’s premier at the ASEAN meeting. Talks this time went further, with Xi suggesting a potential trip to Seoul. He last state visit was in 2014.
“Given the remarks by Xi himself, we will use our diplomatic channels to push for substantive discussions with our Chinese counterparts,” a senior official at Yoon’s office told Yonhap News Agency.
A senior official with direct knowledge of the Saturday meeting has said Xi is “fully aware that it’s his turn to do the tour,” referring to two previous visits by a Korean leader, each in 2017 and 2019. In November last year, Xi told Yoon that he would “gladly accept an invitation once the COVID-19 pandemic stabilizes” at a meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.
Xi’s visit is expected to defuse worries over Yoon’s recent steps that some see to be potentially alienating Beijing as Seoul has sought to position itself amid the intensifying US-China rivalry. Korea, along with the US and Japan, denounced China’s “dangerous and aggressive behavior” at their unprecedented summit in August.
Yoon also maintains he resists changing the status quo by force on Taiwan, the self-ruled democratic island in the South China Sea that Washington supports. Beijing calls it its own and threatens to take it over if necessary, warning against harming its “core interests.”
Yoon officials expect Xi’s trip to take place after a three-nation summit of Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing -- a gathering that Korea, the host, is serious about resuming within this year to end a four-year hiatus prompted by the pandemic.
Xi has said he supports holding the get-together at an “appropriate time.” Senior officials from the three countries will meet in Seoul on Tuesday to discuss details on the meeting for business ties. Yoon will see his Japanese counterpart, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, only, since China will as always send its premier, who is currently Li Qiang.
“At the trilateral summit, we also meet up in one-on-one with each other,” another senior official in Seoul said, adding that the three-way summit could keep the momentum alive for a Yoon-Xi summit later.
The two leaders could meet as early as November on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in San Francisco, California. But their offices have yet to confirm whether Yoon and Xi will attend the global gathering of major economies.
While senior officials handling Seoul-Beijing ties have underscored robust relations, some are skeptical about whether the two countries are actually on the same page. A statement released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry does not mention Xi’s remarks about his visit or support for the three-way summit.
Rather, the statement urges Seoul to show “policy and behavior” that reflects its intent to take ties seriously. Yoon’s office said Seoul and Beijing are neighbors that could continue working with each other, as long as the two recognize “mutual respect and international norms and principles.”