(ATTN: ADDS more details in paras 13, 18)
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, illustrates 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 at the talks that lasted for 90 minutes.
"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.
Asked by reporters 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."
During their talks and luncheon, Kang and Wang discussed efforts to arrange a visit to Seoul by Chinese President Xi Jinping, anti-virus cooperation and practical ways to enhance bilateral ties, as well as denuclearization of the peninsula and other regional and global issues, a ministry official said.
Wang reaffirmed China's desire to realize Xi's visit here, sharing the view that a summit-level exchange is crucial for the development of bilateral ties. Wang later told reporters that Xi's visit will take place "as soon as conditions are ripe."
The two ministers agreed to continue cooperation for Seoul's efforts to host a trilateral summit among South Korea, China and Japan, reaffirming the importance of the countries' cooperation amid the pandemic, the official said.
On North Korean issues, the ministers shared the view that Pyongyang is watching the leadership transition in the U.S. with a wait-and-see stance amid COVID-19. They agreed on the need to stably manage the "fluid" situation on the peninsula, apparently to forestall a North Korean provocation.
The ministers agreed in principle to launch a committee tasked with crafting a road map for the future development of Seoul-Beijing relations ahead of the 30th anniversary of bilateral ties.
Ahead of the 30th anniversary and the Beijing Winter Olympics, both in 2022, the two sides agreed to work together to prepare for greater cultural exchanges next year and in 2022, and accelerate efforts to adopt a joint blueprint for economic cooperation for the 2021-25 period.
To reinvigorate cultural exchanges, Kang called for China's active cooperation, the official said, amid claims of China's continued restrictions against Korean cultural content that were enacted amid a row over the installation of a U.S. anti-missile system in South Korea.
Wang expressed active support for Seoul's proposal for the Northeast Asia Cooperation Initiative for Infectious Disease Control and Public Health, the ministry said.
Wang also invited Kang to visit China.
Due to what he calls a "traffic" reason, Wang arrived at the ministry for the talks about 25 minutes late. Despite his prior request for the ministry's understanding, critics rebuked what they called a "diplomatic faux pas."
After a luncheon with Kang, Wang paid a courtesy call on President Moon Jae-in 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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