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Delegate meets with Xi at trade forum

Chinese president was welcoming, he said, but Thaad wasn’t discussed
May 16,2017
Seoul’s delegate to a key trade and infrastructure forum in Beijing, Rep. Park Byeong-seug of the Democratic Party, said Monday that he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping the previous evening and discussed the new Korean administration and improving bilateral ties.

The fifth-term lawmaker was sent upon the invitation of Xi by the new Moon Jae-in administration to attend the two-day Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, which kicked off on Sunday.

Park told reporters at the Korean Embassy in Beijing Monday that he met with Xi late Sunday evening and conveyed Moon’s greetings to the Chinese president and his gratitude for the invitation.

Xi said that he was “satisfied” with his phone conversation with Moon last week and said he “highly regarded” the newly elected Korean president’s political philosophy and ideology, adding they shared much in common in this area, according to Park.

The Chinese leader was said to have expressed hopes to improve relations between the two countries and emphasized that “the progress of Korea-China ties is very important not only for Asia but for world peace.”

The meeting comes as Beijing has levied unofficial sanctions against Korea for its deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system under the last administration, which Beijing says is a threat to its security interests.

Park, a former deputy speaker of the National Assembly who started his career in journalism, said he got the impression that Xi “fundamentally trusted” Moon, but added that the Thaad issue was not discussed because of limited time.

Moon and Xi held their first phone conversation Thursday, following the Korean presidential election Tuesday. During their 40-minute conversation, Moon conveyed to Xi concern over Korean citizens and businesses in China and requested that the recent dispute be resolved in an amicable manner.

The Belt and Road Forum was attended by some 200 senior officials from around the world and heads of state of 29 countries, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Xi’s meeting with the Korean delegate, even though he is not a head of state, is being seen by some as an indication of the president’s special consideration toward Seoul.

“Because we received a last-minute invitation,” Park said, “we were not able to formally arrange a meeting beforehand, but having a chance to meet nonetheless shows his consideration and intention to improve South Korea-China relations.”

Diplomatic sources said Xi did not meet separately with Kim Yong-jae, North Korea’s minister of external economic relations, who led Pyongyang’s delegation to the summit. North Korea fired a ballistic missile during this forum on Sunday.

This forum pushed for China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, a trade and infrastructure plan to connect Asia with Europe and Africa, inspired by the Silk Road.

Leaders of U.S. and European economies were generally missing, with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni the only head from a G-7 nation at the forum.

Matthew Pottinger, U.S. senior director for Asia at the National Security Council (NSC), also attended the forum, before heading to Seoul Monday to lead the senior U.S. delegation to arrange President Donald Trump’s first summit with President Moon.

On Monday, Park also met with Tang Jiaxuan, a former Chinese foreign minister, and State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

Tang conveyed China’s disappointment with Korean policies regarding the United States, while Park acknowledged Beijing’s concerns, though remarked this was a holdover from the previous administration. Park expressed hope to advance relations through the launch of a new Korean administration “through deep dialogue and building of trust.”

Specifics about Thaad, China’s economic retaliations and the North Korean nuclear problem are expected to be discussed by a separate special delegation to be dispatched to Beijing by Moon.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]