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Moon is in for tough talks in Beijing with Xi

Dec 12,2017
Leaders of Korea and China will not issue a joint statement after a summit later this week, a senior Blue House official said Monday, an admission that President Moon Jae-in will face some tough talk when he meets Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

“The two countries are not in a situation to present a mutually acceptable position on a pending issue,” a senior Blue House official said Monday. “Therefore, we decided not to issue a joint statement after the summit.”

Moon will meet with Xi on Thursday during a state visit to China from Wednesday through Saturday. Although the Blue House avoided elaborating on what the troublesome “pending” issue is, it is almost certainly the continuing diplomatic row between Seoul and Beijing over the deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile shield in Korea.

While Seoul insists that the two countries agreed in October to “seal” the controversy, Beijing is obviously asking for something more.

“A joint statement is not a mandatory part of a summit,” the senior official said. “There was none when U.S. President Donald Trump visited Korea, and there was also none issued during Trump’s visit to China.”

No press conference is scheduled after the summit. “Each side will make an announcement to the press after coordinating the contents,” he said.

The source admitted that the plan to skip a joint statement and press conference was decided in advance because of the dim prospects for fruitful discussions. “The summit was arranged in an extremely difficult situation,” he said. “China is expressing a different stance on the pending issue. If a joint statement is adopted, the difference will have to be stipulated, and China appeared to have taken that situation into account.”

Korea-China relations rapidly deteriorated over the past year as Beijing lashed out at Seoul for its decision to host the Thaad system to deter North Korean nuclear and missile threats. Seoul and Washington announced the decision in July 2016 and the deployment was completed in September.

Although the Moon administration stressed that the measure was “temporary,” China carried out a year-long unofficial economic blockade of Korean companies, artists and some products and forbade group tours to Korea. Beijing said Thaad’s powerful radar can spy on Chinese territory.

Efforts to right a relationship put into a tailspin were made over the past months and the foreign ministries of Seoul and Beijing announced on Oct. 31 that the two countries agreed to normalize exchanges and cooperation in all areas.

Although Blue House officials said Seoul and Beijing agreed to end the Thaad spat and claimed it wouldn’t be raised again, Korea faced repeated demands from China.

“Even after the Oct. 31 agreement, Chinese officials are still making public additional arguments,” the source said. “It is undesirable [for Korea] for those arguments to be included in a joint statement. We are not in a position to agree with China if they make new demands.”

Before the agreement was announced, Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha made public Seoul’s stance to address Beijing’s concerns. She said Korea has no plans to deploy additional Thaad systems, to participate in a U.S.-led missile defense regime or to form a trilateral military alliance with the United States and Japan.

Although the Blue House insists that a joint statement is not a mandatory part of the summit, it is rare to skip such an announcement when the meeting is a part of a state visit. When President Park Geun-hye visited China in 2013 and 2014, both of her summits with Xi produced joint statements.

It will be Moon’s third meeting with Xi since he took office in May. They sat down for brief talks in July and November on the sidelines of multilateral conferences.

The Blue House is doing its best to minimize the Thaad discussion at the upcoming summit. When Nam Gwan-pyo, second deputy director of the National Security Office of the Blue House, made a formal announcement on Monday about Moon’s state visit to China, he made no mention about the enduring spat.

“After an official welcome ceremony, Moon will have summit with Xi and strengthen their friendship and trust,” Nam said. “They will evaluate advancements and achievements the two countries made since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1992 and discuss plans to build the ties to a more mature and future-oriented strategic cooperative partnership.”

Nam said a peaceful resolution of the North Korea’s nuclear crisis and establishment of peace on the Korean Peninsula will be discussed at the summit. “Measures to improve cooperation in various areas including a plan to link Korea’s new northern and southern policies and China’s One Belt, One Road initiative will be discussed,” he said.

Following his visit to Beijing from Wednesday to Friday, Moon will visit Chongqing, an industrial city and a hub for Xi’s One Belt, One Road project.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]