(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead; ADDS more info in paras 11-16)
By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, Nov. 26 (Yonhap) -- Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday touted the "robustness" and "vitality" of his country's relations with South Korea, stressing his trip here despite COVID-19 shows how much Beijing values the bilateral partnership.
Wang made the remarks at the start of his talks with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, amid speculation that Beijing will use his trip to try to bring Seoul to its side as U.S. President-elect Joe Biden envisions tightening America's alliance networks to reassert its leadership.
"My visit to South Korea when the COVID-19 situation has yet to end is intended to show the importance we attach to China-South Korea relations through actual action and to show confidence that South Korea can prevail in its fight over COVID-19," Wang said through an interpreter.
"Having endured the ordeal of COVID-19, the bilateral relations are now showing robustness and the appearance of greater vitality," he added.
Wang also pointed out that South Korea and China are working together to "contribute to safeguarding regional peace and stability, promoting regional economic integration and complementing the global governance system." He did not elaborate further.
Kang said that Wang's visit shows close cooperation between the foreign ministries of the two countries.
"Ahead of the 30th anniversary in 2022 of the establishment of bilateral ties, I hope for an exchange of opinions on further fleshing out the strategic partnership between the two countries," Kang said.
Their agenda was expected to include the countries' efforts to arrange a visit to South Korea by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Seoul's push to host a trilateral summit among the leaders of South Korea, China and Japan before the end of this year.
Chinese officials have said that Xi's trip to Seoul will come when the COVID-19 pandemic levels off, but a third wave of the virus outbreak has darkened the prospects of Xi making an early trip here.
After the talks, Wang told reporters that Xi's visit here will take place "as soon as conditions are ripe."
"What is important is to continue to forge the conditions for the visit," he said.
Touching on the conditions, Wang said: "Now, everyone is wearing a mask. All this is affecting (Xi's visit)."
Wang also thanked President Moon Jae-in for his invitation to Xi, saying it reflects South Korea's "active wish" about the South Korea-China friendship.
Asked about analysts putting his trip in the context of a Sino-U.S. rivalry, Wang said, "The U.S. is not the only country in this world.
"There are some 190 countries in the world, and they are all independent countries. Among them are China and South Korea," he added, noting the two countries' citizens should come and go between them often "like relatives."
After a luncheon with Kang, Wang is scheduled to pay a courtesy call on Moon at the presidential office, Cheong Wa Dae.
Wang is also expected to meet other government and ruling party officials, including former Democratic Party chief Lee Hae-chan, presidential security adviser Moon Chung-in and Rep. Song Young-gil, chairman of the National Assembly's foreign affairs committee.
Wang last visited Seoul in December 2019.
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