SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol asked China to play a more active, constructive role in curbing the nuclear threat from North Korea when he met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday at the Group of 20 summit in Indonesia, officials said.
Xi told Yoon that he hopes South Korea will try to improve its ties with rival North Korea, Yoon’s office said, in a reflection of the two countries’ divergent views on North Korea.
The Yoon-Xi meeting on the sidelines of the G-20, the first summit between the leaders of the two countries since December 2019, came after North Korea test-launched dozens of missiles, many of them nuclear-capable, in recent weeks.
Some experts say North Korea has been able to continue its barrage of missile tests in part because China and Russia have opposed efforts by the United States and its allies to adopt new U.N. sanctions against the North. Washington is locked in a strategic competition with Beijing and in a confrontation with Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
China, North Korea’s biggest source of aid and its economic lifeline, is believed to have the greatest leverage over North Korea. But it is suspected of not fully enforcing U.N. sanctions on North Korea and of shipping clandestine assistance to help keep afloat its impoverished socialist ally, which it views as a bulwark against U.S. influence on the Korean Peninsula.
During his meeting with Xi, “President Yoon said he hopes that China would play a more active, constructive role (on the North Korean issue) as its neighbor and a member of the U.N. Security Council, after noting that North Korea has recently escalated nuclear and missile threats by launching provocations with an unprecedented frequency,” Yoon’s office said in a statement.
Xi said China and South Korea have common interests on the Korean Peninsula and both nations must safeguard peace. He also said he hopes that South Korea will actively seek better relations with North Korea, Yoon’s office said.
A Chinese government statement on the meeting didn’t say whether the two leaders discussed North Korea.
According to the Chinese statement, Xi said China is ready to work with South Korea to boost bilateral ties and provide greater stability for the region and the world. It quoted Xi as stressing the need for the two countries to increase strategic communications and political trust.
Yoon’s office also said the South Korean leader proposed that the two countries hold regular high-level talks to jointly respond to the pandemic, the global economic slump and climate issues. It said Xi agreed on the need for high-level dialogue.
Since taking office in May, Yoon, a conservative, has been seeking to solidify his country’s military alliance with the United States and participate in U.S.-led regional initiatives. Yoon’s government has repeatedly said such moves won’t target China, its biggest trading partner.
Some analysts say Yoon’s tilt toward Washington could trigger economic retaliation by China, as it did in 2017 when South Korea allowed the United States to install a missile defense system in its territory that Beijing views as a security threat. But others say China will likely be cautious about further economic retaliation because it would push South Korea closer to the United States and worsen anti-Chinese sentiment in South Korea.
South Korea, the world’s 10th largest economy, is a major supplier of semiconductors, automobiles, smartphones and other electronic products, making it an attractive partner to both the United States and China.