Chinese President Xi Jinping is "almost certain" to visit South Korea in the first half of next year, a presidential official said Wednesday.
President Moon Jae-in invited Xi to visit the South in the near future when they held summit talks in Beijing on Monday. Xi said in response that he will positively consider a visit, according to officials.
"You can take it as almost certain that Xi will visit South Korea in the first half of next year, though final coordination is necessary on issues like the specific timing," a presidential official told reporters on background.
Xi's trip, if realized, would be his first since Moon became president in 2017. It could symbolize an improvement in relations between the two countries that have soured after Seoul decided to host the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system.
During their summit on Monday, the Chinese president called on his South Korean counterpart to "appropriately" resolve the THAAD issue.
Seoul has maintained that THAAD is designed to counter North Korea's missile threats, but Beijing has argued that the system's powerful radar could be used to spy on China. After South Korea installed a THAAD battery in 2017, China banned the sale of package tours to South Korea and took other steps to hurt South Korean businesses.
Also during their recent summit, Moon and Xi pushed Pyongyang and Washington to maintain the momentum of nuclear talks. The two leaders met amid indications of possible preparations by Pyongyang for resuming high-profile provocations like test-firing a long-range rocket.
According to Cheong Wa Dae, Xi told Moon, "China and South Korea should join forces in making North Korea and the United States maintain the dialogue momentum. There are many people worrying about the tense situation on the Korean Peninsula."
Satellite images have reportedly shown increased activities at North Korea's long-range rocket launch site near its border with China, coupled with its stated threat of a "Christmas gift" for the Trump administration, apparently referring to a major provocation.
Pyongyang has set a year-end deadline for Washington to change tack and put forward a fresh offer based on a "new calculation" in nuclear bargaining. (Yonhap)