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(2nd LD) Virus hurts possibility of Xi's visit to S. Korea in first half of year: FM

All News 17:20 April 28, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS details in 10, 13-14; UPDATES minor detail in para 5)

SEOUL, April 28 (Yonhap) -- Chances of Chinese leader Xi Jinping visiting South Korea in the first half of the year have become more unlikely due to the coronavirus pandemic, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Tuesday.

South Korea and China have been in talks to arrange Xi's visit to Seoul in the first half of the year. South Korean officials said after a meeting between Xi and President Moon Jae-in in Beijing in December that the Chinese leader is certain to visit South Korea in the first half of this year.

But questions have arisen about whether the visit will take place in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, Kang acknowledged the virus situation has hurt the prospect.

"The possibility of Chinese President Xi Jinping visiting the country in the first half of the year has become lower due to the COVID-19 crisis," she told lawmakers in a parliamentary session.

Kang said that both sides are still committed to realizing Xi's visit at an early date.

"The Chinese side has announced long before that it is earnestly considering a visit in the first half, and we are on the same page (with China)," foreign ministry spokesperson Kim In-chul told a press briefing later in the day.

"Given the current pandemic situation of COVID-19, both sides are watching the situation closely and continuing discussions on the specific timing of the visit to South Korea," he said.

During the parliamentary session, the foreign minister also said the two countries are in consultations over granting entry ban exemptions or fast-tracking entry for businesspeople.

President Moon Jae-in and government officials have been ramping up efforts to ease entry bans on businesspeople to minimize the economic fallout from the contagious virus.

Regarding ongoing efforts to advance wages for furloughed Korean workers at the United States Forces Korea (USFK), Kang said Washington has denied a proposal suggested by Seoul, citing lack of legal grounds.

The foreign minister said the defense ministry is leading efforts to help settle wages for the furloughed workers, while the government is seeking to ultimately resolve the issue by reaching a deal on the cost-sharing agreement.
Starting this month, around 4,000 employees have been placed on indefinite furloughs as talks over a new Special Measures Agreement (SMA) have shown little progress. The SMA stipulates how much Seoul would pay for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong USFK.

The previous one-year SMA, under which Seoul agreed on an 8.2 percent increase, expired at the end of 2019.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha speaks to lawmakers at a parliamentary session held at the National Assembly in Seoul on April 28, 2020. (Yonhap)

mlee@yna.co.kr
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