South Korea’s Moon to send envoys to Beijing to ease tensions

New president says North Korea provocation must stop before progress on missile defence

South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in talks during a telephone call with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on Thursday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in talks during a telephone call with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on Thursday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

 

South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in has told China he will send a special delegation to Beijing to discuss the North Korean nuclear crisis and the US missile defence system that has blighted relations between the two countries.

Mr Moon told President Xi Jinping that North Korean provocations had to stop before the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system could be reconsidered.

China bitterly opposes the deployment of the system, which it says will upset the strategic balance in the region, and during the campaign Mr Moon said he would review the system once he was elected.

Mr Moon held the 40-minute phone call with his Chinese counterpart at the Blue House, the presidential residence.

Spokesman Yoon Young-chan said it was the first time a Chinese leader had called a newly installed South Korean president to congratulate them.

Seoul and Beijing would discuss the timing of talks between high-level delegations, and Mr Xi has also invited Mr Moon on an official visit to China.

“President Moon said he understands China’s interest in the Thaad deployment and its concerns, and said he hopes the two countries can swiftly get on with communication to further improve each other’s understanding,” Mr Yoon told a briefing.

“President Moon said the Thaad issue can be resolved when there is no further provocation by North Korea, ” Mr Yoon said.

During the phone call, Mr Xi laid out China’s reasons for its strong and repeated opposition to the system.

The conversation is a sign of willingness to repair relations between the two countries.

Positive start

The liberal Mr Moon has hit the ground running since he won Tuesday’s election, following the impeachment and arrest in March of his predecessor, the conservative Park Geun-hye, over a corruption scandal.

In his first speech, he said he would work towards resolving the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula and negotiate with Washington and Beijing over Thaad.

Mr Moon asked Mr Xi to personally look into ways to resolve the damaging sanctions against South Korean businesses in China and also restrictions on Chinese tour groups coming to Korea. The missile defence system’s deployment has hit tourism hard, with visitor inflow from China plunging 40 per cent in March from a year ago to 360,782, the Korea Tourism Organisation said.

In remarks carried by the Xinhua news agency, Mr Xi said he hoped the two close neighbours could respect each other’s major concerns and legitimate interests and try to seek common ground and handle disputes properly.

“Stronger China-South Korea relations serves the common interests of both peoples, and are conducive to regional peace, stability and development,” Mr Xi was quoted as saying.

Mr Moon has also spoken with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and they agreed to hold a bilateral meeting soon. Mr Moon has suggested he might scrap an agreement made by the previous government with Tokyo over Japan’s sexual enslavement of Korean women during the second World War, saying it was not acceptable to most South Koreans.