BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping said Thursday he’s willing to work with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in on addressing differences between the two countries following months of angry rhetoric and economic retaliation over Seoul’s deployment of a U.S. missile-defense system.
Xi’s remarks came in a message on Thursday to Moon marking the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Seoul, close economic and trade partners who have maintained generally friendly relations despite South Korea’s military alliance with the U.S.
The official Xinhua News Agency quoted Xi as saying he was willing to make “concerted efforts” to improve relations but did not directly mention the missile-defense system known as THAAD.
Xi stressed the importance of bilateral relations, saying he “stands ready to join efforts with Moon to consolidate political mutual trust, properly address differences, and push for the stable and healthy development of bilateral relations,” Xinhua reported.
Seoul and Washington have argued that the missile system is aimed at North Korean aggression, while China sees it as a threat to its own security because it says its radar can peer into northeastern China. China is North Korea’s biggest economic partner and source of diplomatic support and has come under heavy pressure to use its influence to rein in the North’s missile and nuclear activities.
Many analysts have seen in China’s dogged opposition to THAAD a drive to use its economic clout to bolster its political influence in east Asia with an eye to reducing that of the U.S., long the region’s dominant military power.
Beijing has retaliated against Seoul over THAAD by suspending visits to South Korea by Chinese tour groups and trips to China by South Korean entertainers. South Korean businesses have faced boycotts, especially the Lotte conglomerate, which provided the land on which the missile shield is being constructed and has stores in China.
China, however, began to soften its tough talk after the newly-elected Moon sent a special envoy to Beijing in June where he met with Xi and other leading officials in hopes of restarting high-level contacts.
It wasn’t clear at what point Xi and Moon might meet face-to-face, although both countries usually send heads of state to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit, being held in Vietnam this year in November.