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International relations

China and Seoul vow to cooperate on Korean Peninsula denuclearization

Foreign ministers agree to first high-level security talks in 6 years

South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, left, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meet in the southern Chinese city of Xiamen on April 3.   © AP

BEIJING/SEOUL -- China and South Korea will strengthen cooperation to achieve denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, the two countries' foreign ministers agreed on Saturday, with plans for senior-level security talks in the first half of the year.

The two countries share the goal of the denuclearization of the peninsula, both governments said in releases, and the two sides aim for the first talks between their foreign affairs and defense vice ministers. The agreement came during newly appointed South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong's visit to Xiamen, China, to meet Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

"China will work with South Korea to promote a political solution to the Korean Peninsula issue through dialogue," Wang said.

Talks between high-ranking foreign affairs and defense officials of the two nations would be the first since January 2015, which were at the director level. The upcoming meeting would be at the vice ministerial level, rather than "two-plus-two" ministerial talks.

The plan to hold the security talks comes as the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has been bolstering diplomatic ties in the region in a bid to pressure China.

Beijing has sought to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington, while South Korea balances efforts to improve ties with an increasingly influential China against the resulting national security concerns.

Holding security talks at the vice minister level may have represented a compromise between these interests with South Korea caught between its longtime ally Washington and its largest trading partner, China. Already tense relations between the U.S. and China appeared to increase last month after a rare exchange of blunt words in public during a meeting in the U.S. state of Alaska.

South Korea says once the coronavirus pandemic stabilizes, it will prepare to invite Chinese President Xi Jinping to Seoul. Talks between the countries' foreign vice ministers are also planned around the first half of this year.

The trip by Chung marked the first visit by a South Korean foreign minister to China since November 2017. The foreign ministers of the two countries most recently met in South Korea last November.

After the Alaska meeting last month, Xi reached out to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, telling him Beijing would work to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

This is the first time Chung has visited a foreign country since he took the position, emphasizing the priority of China for the Moon Jae-in administration. "South Korea is approaching China as China's relationship with Japan turns rocky. It's an opportunity to attract [South Korea]," a Chinese state media official said.

Chung participated in a two-plus-two meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken who visited Japan and South Korea last month. Chung also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in South Korea.

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