ULAN BATOR -- China is working to improve relations with nearby countries before November's meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, particularly Mongolia, which it views as key to northeastern Asia.
President Xi Jinping met with Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj here Thursday, marking the first trip by a Chinese president since 2003. This is also only the second country Xi has visited without making it part of a tour -- unusual treatment for such a minor economic power.
The two leaders agreed to work together in a range of areas, including energy development, infrastructure and finance. They also agreed to expand an existing currency swap agreement by 50% to 15 billion yuan ($2.43 billion) to buoy Mongolia's foreign-currency reserves.
At a news conference, Xi expressed support for Mongolia's hopes to join APEC. Mongolia has already agreed to serve as a co-founder of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which aims to compete with similar institutions in the region.
Xi had laid out plans last fall to promote stable relations with neighboring countries and bolster China's influence. But its hard line on territorial claims in the South China Sea has created friction with Vietnam and the Philippines. A dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands, called the Diaoyu by China, has stalled diplomacy with Tokyo, and relations with ally North Korea have been strained.
Three months remain until the November APEC meeting in Beijing, and diplomatic stability will be essential for the event to go smoothly. Xi is expected to discuss policies aimed at improving ties with China's neighbors when he addresses the Mongolian legislature Friday.
The Japanese and Chinese foreign ministers recently held in Myanmar their first real exchange of views under Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. And in a secret meeting late last month with former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, Xi expressed interest in a diplomatic thaw with Tokyo.
China is increasingly tending toward a top-down diplomatic approach led by Xi, and it may decide to change course without worrying about consistency with past positions. Until November, Beijing is likely to shift from its unyielding stance and instead take the more flexible approach of "smile diplomacy."