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PRESIDENT Xi Jinping welcomed his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae In to Beijing yesterday for a visit dedicated to improving ties that have nosedived since Seoul’s deployment of a US anti-missile system.
Greeting President Moon in the Great Hall of the People in the heart of the capital, Mr Xi said that bilateral relations had suffered setbacks “for reasons known to all.
“I hope and believe that your visit will be an important opportunity to improve relations as we seek to find ways to carve a better path based on mutual respect and trust,” he added.
His guest responded that there had been “temporary difficulties” between the two countries, but they had “provided an opportunity to think from the other’s perspective.”
Mr Moon called the meeting a “first step to develop the mutual relations to the next level.”
The two leaders later presided over the signing of seven agreements covering co-operation in areas from food safety to the Winter Olympics.
Neither explicitly mentioned the US Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence anti-missile system, known as THAAD, that China has insisted South Korea should remove.
However, state broadcaster CCTV made clear that Mr Xi had reiterated China’s opposition to the deployment in private talks with Mr Moon, voicing hope that South Korea would “continue to appropriately handle this matter.”
China says that the THAAD system allows Seoul and Washington to spy on military activity in north-eastern China, while Mr Moon’s government claims that it is necessary to counter North Korea’s missile threats.
The lingering dispute, which has already festered for over a year, has done great harm to economic ties, with South Korean businesses in China suffering massive drops in sales and China suspending group tours to South Korea that are a mainstay of the local tourism industry.
South Korean soap operas have been taken off Chinese television and the country’s popular K-Pop stars are banned from visiting.
South Korea’s Lotte business group, which provided the land for the missile defence system, was forced to suspend business in China in response to public sentiment.
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