(ATTN: UPDATES photos)
By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, Sept. 2 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye on Friday left for Vladivostok, Russia, to attend an economic forum and a summit with her Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, as part of her eight-day trip that also includes visits to China and Laos.
In the eastern Russian port city, Park will attend the annual Eastern Economic Forum (EEF), a venue to discuss ways to bolster regional cooperation in developing Russia's resource-rich Far East.
Under the main theme, "Opening up the Russian Far East," the second EEF will bring together some 2,500 participants from 32 countries, including China, Japan and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
At the forum on Saturday, Park will deliver a keynote speech to put forward her vision for cooperation with Russia in the development of the Russian Far East, her office Cheong Wa Dae said.
After the forum, Park will sit down with Putin for a summit to discuss cooperation on an array of issues, including joint efforts to denuclearize North Korea and curb its provocations. The agenda also includes a set of global issues, such as terrorism and climate change.
The recent decision by Seoul and Washington to deploy an advanced U.S. antimissile system on South Korean soil is expected to be discussed at the summit, since it has emerged as a source of tension in bilateral relations.
Moscow, along with Beijing, has strenuously opposed the deployment of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery to the Korean Peninsula, arguing the deployment would only escalate regional tensions and undermine its security interests.
During her summit with Putin, Park will likely reiterate that the THAAD deployment is an inevitable, self-defense measure to counter Pyongyang's evolving nuclear and missile threats, and that it will only target the provocative state, observers said.
The South Korean leader is also expected to use the summit to restore trust with Moscow.
The bilateral relationship has apparently chilled since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, which Seoul, in tandem with the international community, maintains breached international law and undermined Ukraine's territorial integrity.
The suspension of the “Rajin-Khasan” project, a three-way logistics scheme involving the two Koreas and Russia, has added fresh tensions to two-way ties. The project got bogged down after Pyongyang's nuclear test in January and long-range rocket launch the following month.
This week's summit between Park and Putin will be the fourth one.
The two leaders held talks on the sidelines of a summit of the Group of 20 (G-20) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in September 2013; during Putin's visit to Seoul in November 2013; and at the U.N. conference on climate change in November 2015.
Following Park's visit to Russia, she will travel to Hangzhou, eastern China, to attend the G-20 summit.
The two-day event, slated to begin Sunday, will be held under the main theme, "Towards an Innovative, Invigorated, Interconnected and Inclusive World Economy."
At the summit, Park plans to voice her concerns over the recrudescence of protectionist tendencies and call for more active efforts by the G-20 to expand free trade, Cheong Wa Dae said.
From Wednesday to Thursday, Park will attend the South Korea-ASEAN summit, the ASEAN-plus-three summit, which involves South Korea, China and Japan, and the East Asia Summit (EAS), all of which will take place in the Laotian capital of Vientiane.
The EAS is a summit that includes the U.S., Russia, India, Australia and New Zealand, along with the ASEAN-plus-three members.
Following the multilateral summits, Park will begin her official visit to Laos, which was arranged on the invitation of Laotian President Bounnhang Vorachith.
On Friday, the leaders of South Korea and Laos will hold a summit to discuss trade, investment, development and other areas of mutual concern, the presidential office said.
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