"I was extremely satisfied with my telephone conversation with President Moon Jae-In. He and I have many things in common," said President Xi Jinping of China at a meeting with Rep. Park Byeong-Seok in China, President Moon Jae-In's special envoy to Beijing, on May 14, 2017.
Speaking at a recent interview with The Korea Post media, Rep. Park said: "President Xi Jin-Ping told me that he was extremely satisfied with his telephone conversation with President Moon. President Xi also thought highly of President Moon's personal endeavor, political philosophy and ideology as President Xi added that President Moon and Rep. Park himself had many things in common. President Xi expressed a relationship of trust with President Moon." Rep. Park visited Beijing in his capacity as a special envoy of President Moon to Beijing in less than a week after Moon’s inauguration as Korean President.
Since Moon took his oath as President of the Republic of Korea at the National Assembly on May 10, there have been signs of thawing relations between Korea and China, which had been soured due to bilateral disputes over the deployment of the advanced U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system on Korean soil. Excerpts from the interview follow:
Question: Your visit to China was quite important at a time when the THAAD issue had been hampering relations between Seoul and Beijing. In particular, the surprise one-to-one meeting with President Xi drew keen attention. We understand that you did not need a translator as you spoke the Chinese language fluently.
Answer: During the telephone talks between the two state leaders on May 11, President Xi Jinping congratulated President Moon Jae-In on his election as the head of state and expressed his intention to politely invited a delegation of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) to China's Belt and Road Summit
We had to hurriedly move to form the proposed delegation to meet the opening of the Chinese forum, which fell on May 14 and work hard to prepare for the event.
At the same time, we kept contacts with the Chinese diplomatic authorities to push our stance that we were keen to meet with the leadership of the Chinese Government. Our proposal to meet President Xi Jinping finally materialized.
During the meeting, I directly talked to him (President Xi) without the help of an interpreter to save the time of conveying President Moon Jae-In's message to President Xi Jinping.
President Xi said, 'I was extremely satisfied with my telephone conversation with President Moon Jae-In.' And then he continued to highly value President Moon's endeavors in his lifetime as well as his political philosophy and expressed his trustworthy relationship with President Moon, adding that he and President Moon have many things in common. On top of that, he also put a great emphasis that South Korea-China relations must be highly valued and that improving their bilateral ties and mutual trust is extremely important not only for the sake of the two nations but also for the peace of Asia and the world beyond.
Q: Can we say your one-to-one meeting with President Xi was a special and exceptional treatment the Chinese government offered to South Korea with the highest level of courtesy when taking into account the fact that a total of 28 state leaders and delegations from some 110 countries attended the Belt and Road Summit.
A: As you are well aware, our delegation was belatedly invited to the forum even after President Xi Jinping's schedules for summit talks with other state leaders had been fixed. The Chinese side's move to arrange our meeting (with Xi) has been regarded as a new inquiry and signal (from Beijing) in relations between the two countries.
China's local news media outlets also evaluated highly of the meeting with President Xi as exceptional. In addition, many foreign journalists were seen staying at our delegation's hotel until late night to file stories about us.
Q: What was discussed during your meeting with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi, China’s highest-ranking diplomat?
A: State Councilor Yang Jiechi emphasized three principles -- the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, peace and stability on the Peninsula and dialogue and negotiations to settle the pending issues.
I replied to Councilor Yang stressing that there should never be an outbreak of war on the Korean Peninsula and that there should never be any discussions about the future of the Peninsula, with the absence of our nation....
In response, Councilor Yang said that the Chinese government will be discussing those issues related to the Korean Peninsula surely with the Republic of Korea, and that Beijing is determined to continue bilateral cooperation with Seoul to maintain peace and stability on the Peninsula.
Q: How do you see what has resulted from your delegation's visit to China and the future of diplomatic ties between Seoul and Beijing?
A: Following my meeting with President Xi Jinping at night on May 14, we could see some signs that the Chinese authorities were moving to ease part of their regulations against (South) Korean businesses there.
Although some Korean artists' concerts in China were canceled, the K-pop sections on China's major Chinese music streaming charts as well as the official website of (Korean retailer) Lotte Mart there have been restored.
China has long asserted that those regulations on (South Korean) businesses had stemmed from a voluntary campaign organized by the private sector. However, I stressed that if that's the case, the Chinese government and leaders need to guide them away from such a wrongful campaign.
The two countries are celebrating the 25th anniversary of establishing their official diplomatic ties. With President Xi Jinping having come forward to express his will to better bilateral relations with us, (our delegation's visit to Beijing) will serve as a key momentum for another quantum leap in the relationship between (South) Korea and China.
While China has shown some signs to make an overture to repair relations with South Korea and the Seoul delegation’s positive reception at the Belt and Road Summit is seen as a sign of possible healing of South Korea-China ties, the THAAD deployment on Korean soil, to which Beijing remains staunchly opposed, has been in progress to a certain level. Under these diplomatic circumstances, the next question is to be whether South Korea and China will be able to find a clever move to turn the inconvenience between the two peoples around.