South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-in told his Chinese counterpart that he plans to send a special delegation to Beijing for talks on North Korea and a contentious U.S. missile-defense shield, raising the prospect of a thaw in relations between the Asian neighbors. The plan was discussed Thursday during a 40-minute phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Moon’s office said in a statement. The call from Xi to congratulate Moon on his inauguration the day before was the first of its kind from a Chinese leader to his new South Korean counterpart, the statement said.
Moon, South Korea’s first liberal leader in a decade, faces a number of foreign policy challenges, including the threat from North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and frayed ties with China, its biggest trading partner. Beijing has been upset by the installation of U.S. missile-defense system in South Korea that was approved by Moon’s conservative predecessor as a hedge against North Korea. China sees the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, as a threat to its own security and will be hoping Moon follows through on his campaign pledge to review the system’s deployment if elected.
During Thursday’s call, Xi reaffirmed China’s opposition to the THAAD deployment, Moon’s office said. Moon responded that he’s aware of China’s concerns and he hopes the two countries can have a greater understanding of each other’s positions on the system, it said. Moon said he also hopes to meet Xi at an early date and Xi formally invited Moon to visit Beijing, the statement said. While Moon may try to soothe Chinese anger over the THAAD deployment, many observers say it appears too late to call for its withdrawal, which would greatly undermine South Korea’s relationship with Washington, its most important ally.