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(LEAD) Vice FM Choi meets Chinese, Japanese ambassadors amid Sino-U.S. rivalry, looming leadership change in Japan

All News 16:48 September 07, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES throughout; CHANGES photo; ADDS photo)
By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, Sept. 7 (Yonhap) -- First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun met with the Chinese and Japanese ambassadors on Monday, amid the intensifying Sino-U.S. rivalry and a looming leadership change in Japan.

Since taking office last month, Choi has held and planned online and offline meetings with his foreign counterparts and ambassadors from major countries as part of efforts to ensure their support for Seoul's policy agenda, including its push for lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

He first met with U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris last week.

On Monday, Choi had a meeting with Japanese Ambassador Koji Tomita amid continuing tensions between Seoul and Tokyo over the long-running thorny issue of wartime forced labor and the latter's export restrictions.

First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun (R) and Japanese Ambassador Koji Tomita bump elbows before their talks at the foreign ministry in Seoul on Sept. 7, 2020. (Yonhap)

Their talks came after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his intent late last month to step down due to health problems -- a move that raised cautious hope for a possible shift in the taut relations between South Korea and Japan.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, a close aide to Abe, is seen as a front-runner to be the next premier, raising speculation that if he is elected, Tokyo's foreign policy could remain largely unchanged.

Later in the day, Choi met Chinese Ambassador Xing Haiming.

Their talks were arranged against the backdrop of an intensifying Sino-U.S. rivalry that has posed a tricky geopolitical quandary to South Korea.

First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun (R) and Chinese Ambassador Xing Haiming bump elbows before their talks at the foreign ministry in Seoul on Sept. 7, 2020. (Yonhap)

The two sides could discuss ongoing bilateral coordination to arrange a visit to Seoul by Chinese President Xi Jinping within this year as the two countries have mutually agreed to push for the visit.

Xi's visit, if realized, would come at a delicate time for Seoul's diplomacy, as the United States has recently been striving to close ranks with its key Asian allies amid tensions between the great powers on multiple fronts, including trade, technology and maritime security.

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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