Chinese President Xi Jinping said Saturday he will consider visiting South Korea for a potential summit with President Yoon Suk Yeol, at a meeting with Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, who is visiting the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou for the opening of the Asian Games.
A senior official in Seoul with direct knowledge of the Saturday meeting said Xi brought up the issue of a leader-level visit.
“It was the Chinese leader who floated it first, which means he knows well it’s his turn to do the tour,” the official said, adding that such a trip had long been delayed, partially by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Xi, who last visited Korea in July 2014, said he would “gladly accept an invitation from Yoon once the pandemic stabilizes” at a meeting in November last year, when the two leaders met on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.
The Chinese leader also welcomed reopening of a three-way summit involving Korea, Japan and China -- a gathering set to take place within this year as Seoul, the host, is serious about ending the four-year hiatus prompted by the pandemic. The three countries will hold a senior-level meeting next week to go over details on the gathering that focuses on business ties.
When asked to play a “constructive role” in addressing North Korea, a country that routinely makes nuclear threats, Xi reiterated Beijing’s commitment to “continuously make efforts for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
China is the largest benefactor extending an economic lifeline for the isolated country, which has been struggling with UN sanctions prompted by its nuclear buildup. Beijing in recent months has used its UN veto power to thwart attempts to further sanction the regime for its missiles launches.
The Saturday meeting, which lasted about 30 minutes in the afternoon, gives rise to “meaningful momentum” for exchanges, the Foreign Ministry in Seoul said, downplaying speculation that the two had bickered over policy issues. Critics say that is the reason Xi is pushing back his state visit.
First Vice Foreign Minister Chang Ho-jin, who briefed reporters on the meeting, added that Xi and Han did not discuss “anything remotely related to the recent military cooperation” between North Korea and Russia. The two held a summit last week in the far eastern Amur region of Russia, potentially shaking hands on an arms deal that would help Moscow’s war in Ukraine while giving Pyongyang weapons technologies.