Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with Lee Hae-chan, special envoy of the President of the Republic of Korea (ROK) Moon Jae-in, in Beijing, capital of China, May 18, 2017. (Xinhua/Cui Xinyu)
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged South Korea to take clear measures to improve bilateral relations during his meeting with a South Korean special envoy on Thursday.
Lee Hae-chan, South Korea's presidential envoy, arrived in Beijing Thursday for a visit widely expected to rebuild mutual trust with China since the election of Moon Jae-in as South Korean president earlier this month generated optimism.
Sino-South Korean ties have soured over the deployment of the US-backed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea.
"This year we've had some unexpected setbacks. Our relations are at a crossroads and it's not something we want to see," Wang said during his meeting with Lee. "We hope the new government will correct the problems we have encountered and take effective measures and positions as soon as possible to remove the obstacles that have been placed on the road to good relations between our two countries."
In response, Lee said that South Korea realizes that the deployment of the THAAD system has been undermining mutual trust and bilateral cooperation. "South Korea will seek a solution to properly deal with the issue," Lee was quoted as saying by a Xinhua report on Thursday.
"China resolutely opposes the deployment of THAAD because it will destabilize the balance in Northeast Asia. If the new South Korean administration cannot sweep away the anti-missile system, which is no doubt a tough job, it shouldn't expect bilateral ties, especially economic cooperation, to return to their status prior to the THAAD issue," said Lü Chao, an expert on Korean studies at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences.
Since the presidential election campaign, Moon has been opposed to the deployment of the THAAD, which had been implemented by the US army when former president Park Geun-hye was impeached. Moon claims it lacks the legal procedure to approve the deployment, and the US decision to hastily implement the system undermines South Korea's democracy.
Moon's supporters also expect him to improve Sino-South Korean relations and to help his country's economy recover.
"Addressing the difficulties facing South Korean businesses in China tops Lee's agenda in his visit," Zheng Jiyong, director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times.
South Korean businesses in China have been badly affected since the rise of the THAAD issue.
Chinese tourists had been the biggest spenders in South Korea. But the number of Chinese visitors to the country dropped 40 percent in March, when South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group agreed to a land swap with the South Korean military for the deployment of the THAAD system, according to a CNN report. South Korean movies and TV shows have also been removed by Chinese online video platforms.
Since Moon took office earlier this month, cultural exchanges between the two countries appear to be warming up. Some South Korean entertainment industry people claim they've begun to receive cooperation proposals from China, a recent Yonhap News Agency report said.
"But if South Korea doesn't come up with a specific plan to resolve the THAAD issue, it shouldn't expect Sino-South Korean ties to enjoy momentum," Zheng said.
With the Belt and Road initiative starting to work, China has more cooperative options than before, while South Korea will be more dependent on China for its economic development, Lü said. South Korea should waste no time in improving relations with China, he said.
Lee said Moon and Chinese President Xi Jinping will hold their first summit meeting as early as July on the sidelines of the Group 20 summit in Germany, while a bilateral meeting could also be possible in August, Yonhap News Agency reported on Thursday.