Xi Jinping unlikely to visit South Korea in June

Posted on : 2019-05-24 12:26 KST Modified on : 2019-05-24 12:26 KST
Continuing US-China trade war spilling over into Korean Peninsula affairs
A Huawei booth being set up for the 2019 International Big Data Industry Expo to kick off in Guiyang
A Huawei booth being set up for the 2019 International Big Data Industry Expo to kick off in Guiyang

Preparations for a possible South Korea visit in June by Chinese President Xi Jinping took place through late April, but the visit now appears unlikely to pan out following the breakdown in trade negotiations between the US and China early this month, it was reported.

A June visit to North Korea also planned by Xi in connection with this also looks to be off, hinting that the effects of the US-China trade war are spilling over into the Korean Peninsula political situation.

According to accounts on May 23 from multiple South Korean and Chinese foreign affairs sources, preparations were made between late 2018 and late April of this year for a possible South Korea visit by Xi in June.

“At the time, there was widespread optimism that the US-China trade negotiations would be concluded by early May, and the preparations were for President Xi to visit South Korea following his North Korea visit after having reached a conclusion on this major issue,” a foreign affairs source said.

In preparation for a possible summit, the Chinese Embassy in South Korea also reportedly invited local China experts to talk about a potential agenda for the two leaders’ discussions and share advice and opinions on the two sides’ relationship. The South Korean government had been exploring the idea of a visit by Xi while the Chinese President is attending the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 28–29.

But as the US-China trade talks on May 10–11 broke down and both sides adopted a confrontational stance, the discussions on Xi’s visit came to a halt.

“Right now, we have no way of knowing any plans as to when President Xi would be visiting South Korea,” said another foreign affairs source.

Xi’s planned visit to N. Korea also likely cancelled

Xi’s planned North Korea visit net month also appears to be off. A major factor is Beijing’s increasing unwillingness to play a role in North Korea-US denuclearization talks or on North Korea-related issues for fear of provoking Washington.

“From China’s standpoint, US-China relations are soured enough that President Xi would be unable to resolve Korean Peninsula-related issues even if he does visit the North, and there are concerns that if he does visit the North and Pyongyang begins raising tensions again, the US will claim that Beijing was ‘behind it,’ which will only make matters worse,” said a source familiar with South Korea-China relations.

Kim Han-kwon, a professor at the Korean National Diplomatic Academy, said, “President Xi is not in a good position to pursue a North Korea visit when no agreement has been reached with the US, and even if he did go, China doesn’t have any suitable ‘gifts’ to give North Korea.”

Since coming to power in 2013, Xi has visited South Korea once before in July 2014, while he has yet to travel to North Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has visited China four times since last year and extended an official invitation to Xi. The year 2019 also marks the 70th anniversary of Pyongyang and Beijing establishing diplomatic relations. Under circumstances, another visit by Xi to South Korea alone would run a strong risk of weakening ties between Pyongyang and Beijing, which were restored with some difficulty last year.

By Park Min-hee and Kim Ji-eun, staff reporters

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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