(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 9-13; TRIMS)
By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, Dec. 4 (Yonhap) -- Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called Wednesday for South Korea to make joint efforts to play a "constructive" role for regional peace and stability, casting the two countries as "close neighbors, friends and partners."
Wang made the remarks at a meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha during his first trip to Seoul since bilateral ties soured in 2016 over the installation of the U.S. missile defense system Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) on the peninsula.
His trip came amid lingering tensions over Seoul's decision to host a THAAD unit, Washington's campaign against Chinese telecom titan Huawei and its moves to deploy longer-range missiles to East Asia.
"Both countries, China and South Korea, are close neighbors, friends and, not least, partners," Wang said through an interpreter.
"Regarding the current international situation replete with uncertainties, and against the backdrop of changes never seen in the past 100 years, the neighbors should strengthen their mutual visits much more, enhance cooperation, and understand and support each other, and have to work together to safeguard our legitimate rights and play a constructive role for regional peace and stability," he said.
He also criticized "unilateralism" and "hegemonic acts" as the biggest threat to world peace, though he did not name any specific country.
"Along with all responsible countries, including South Korea, China will uphold the ideology of multilateralism, principles of fairness and justice," he said.
Kang highlighted the shared understanding of the need to further enhance bilateral cooperation through more active high-level exchanges and close communication.
The agenda for their talks included preparations for the envisioned trilateral summit of President Moon Jae-in, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as well as efforts to denuclearize North Korea. The leaders are expected to meet in Chengdu, China, late this month.
Kang and Wang also touched on the need for bilateral cooperation to help the U.S. and the North make progress in their nuclear talks, a Seoul official said.
Moreover, the ministers noted the shared understanding that the North cannot be acknowledged as a nuclear power, that peace must be sustained on the peninsula and that there must not be another outbreak of war.
They also discussed the need to convene a joint vice-ministerial panel on people-to-people exchanges in the near future, amid worries that bilateral exchanges have decreased due to Beijing's apparent economic retaliation for the THAAD dispatch.
"At the panel session, the two sides will have discussions on the entirety of people-to-people exchanges and other cooperative projects," the official said.
"We have the shared understanding that we need to bring bilateral ties back onto a normal track so as to fully normalize them," he added.
The foreign ministers' meeting came against the backdrop of an intensifying Sino-U.S. rivalry over trade, maritime security and technology, which has put South Korea in an increasingly difficult diplomatic position.
Some analysts cast Wang's visit this time as a sign of the Seoul-Beijing ties improving after the rough patch caused by the deployment of the THAAD battery and Beijing's apparent economic retaliation.
But others forecast that Wang could use his trip to Seoul to warn against any move by South Korea to bolster America's regional influence or strengthen its military foothold through such decisions as hosting intermediate-range U.S. ballistic missiles.
In an effort to enhance the bilateral ties strained over the THAAD issue, Seoul said in 2017 that it will not deploy additional THAAD systems, partake in a U.S.-led global missile defense program or sign a possible trilateral military alliance accord with the U.S. and Japan.
But tensions between Seoul and Beijing have not been fully addressed yet.
On Thursday, the last day of his visit, Wang plans to pay a courtesy call on Moon.
Wang made his last visit to Seoul on Oct. 31, 2015, to accompany Premier Li, who attended a trilateral summit with his then South Korean and Japanese counterparts.