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International relations

New South Korean leader asks Xi to help ease North Korea tensions

Seoul alarmed by Pyongyang's firing of new ICBM

South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol (photo courtesy of People's Power Party)   © Kyodo

SEOUL/BEIJING (Kyodo) -- South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol on Friday asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to work together to tackle issues related to North Korea, his spokeswoman said, a day after Pyongyang fired a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile.

"Yoon stressed that public concerns have grown big as tensions escalate following North Korea's serious provocation," the spokeswoman said after the president-elect and Xi held phone talks.

Yoon of South Korea's conservative main opposition party called on Xi to "cooperate closely to achieve permanent denuclearization of North Korea and stable management of political conditions on the Korean Peninsula," she added.

This was the first time for a Chinese political leader to talk over the phone with a South Korean president-elect.

On Friday, North Korea confirmed it fired a new "Hwasong-17" ICBM under the guidance of leader Kim Jong Un, threatening peace and stability in the region.

Yoon has pledged to put more pressure on North Korea in tandem with its security ally, the United States, while criticizing incumbent left-wing President Moon Jae In who held summits with Kim three times from April 2018 through September that year.

Yoon and Xi, meanwhile, agreed to improve Sino-South Korean relations, as this year marks the 30th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties, the spokeswoman said.

In South Korea, anti-China sentiment has been spreading since a performer clad in a traditional Korean "hanbok" dress appeared in the opening ceremony of the 17-day Beijing Winter Olympics through Feb. 20 representing ethnic Koreans in China.

Some South Koreans regarded it as cultural appropriation by China.

As Xi has been eager to boost his influence to secure a controversial third term as leader at the ruling Communist Party's twice-a-decade congress in the fall, China is believed to be trying to improve relations with its neighbors such as South Korea.

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