By Christine Kim and Ben Blanchard
SEOUL/BEIJING (Reuters) – Reining in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions will top South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s agenda in Beijing during a visit this week aimed at breaking the ice after a furious row with China over Seoul’s deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system.
While both Seoul and Beijing share the goal of getting Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and stop testing increasingly sophisticated long-range missiles, the two neighbors have not seen eye-to-eye on how to achieve this.
China has been particularly angered at the deployment of U.S.-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea, saying its powerful radar can see far into China and will do nothing to ease tensions with North Korea.
At his third meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this year on Thursday in Beijing, Moon is expected to reaffirm South Korea’s agreement with China in late October the two would normalize all exchanges and move past the year-long spat over THAAD, which froze trade and business exchanges between the two.
The THAAD dispute had dented South Korea’s economic growth, especially its tourism industry, as group tours from China came to a halt while charter flights from South Korea were canceled.
While China still objects to THAAD, it has said it understands South Korea’s decision to deploy it.
In an interview with Chinese state television shown late on Monday, Moon said THAAD’s presence is inevitable due to the looming North Korean threat but assured it would not be used against China.
“South Korea will be extremely careful from here on out that the THAAD system is not invasive of China’s security. South Korea has received promises from the United States multiple times regarding this,” Moon said.
Joint efforts by China and South Korea could have “good results” if they work together to bring North Korea to the negotiation table, he added.
Speaking over the weekend, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Moon had chosen to have “friendly cooperation” with China, and that China was willing to work with South Korea to bring peace and stability to the Korean peninsula.
In its latest missile provocation, Pyongyang test-launched what it called its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) ever in defiance of international sanctions and condemnation as it continues its mission to create a nuclear-tipped ICBM that can hit the United States.
During his first visit to China since taking office in May this year, Moon is expected to get bilateral economic exchanges back on track. According to South Korean media, Moon will be accompanied by the biggest business entourage ever with more than 220 businesses partaking in the four-day visit.
Before returning to Seoul, Moon will head to Chongqing to meet with its Communist Party boss Chen Miner, a close ally of Xi’s.
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