The Korea Times reports that South Korea’s relations with China are showing signs of improvement now that Chinese President Xi Jinping is entering his second term with the end of the 19th Communist Party Congress (CPC) in China.
The pivotal CPC event that cemented Xi into a second five-year term concluded in Beijing on Tuesday.
Bilateral ties had soured following Seoul’s decision to allow the deployment of a US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) antimissile system in South Korea. But the newspaper says that the relationship has apparently thawed recently in the economic and defense spheres.
Hopes are also growing that Xi and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will hold a summit within the year amid mutual concerns over North Korea.
The Korea Times noted that South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo and his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan talked for about half an hour in Clark, the Philippines, on Tuesday, the final day of the CPC event.
Although it occurred on the sidelines of the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) Plus, the newspaper noted that it was the first bilateral meeting between the two officials in almost two years. The last one was held in November 2015.
Details of the discussions weren’t disclosed. But analysts say the meeting itself is significant since it demonstrates the two countries’ desire to improve ties in defense and security areas.
The Korea Times further noted that China and South Korea recently agreed to extend a currency swap deal, eliminating worries that diplomatic friction over THAAD would block an agreement.
“With Xi starting his second term afresh following the congress, China also needs to resolve its tangled relations with South Korea,” Shin Sang-jin, an international studies professor at Kwangwoon University told Korea Times.
Lee Tai-hwan, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute, agreed, saying Xi would seek momentum in Seoul-Beijing relations. “Until the congress, he focused on domestic issues and laid the North Korea matter aside,” Lee said. “With the congress now ended, he could want to set a new chapter with South Korea rather than sticking to the THAAD issue.”