China’s Xi Jinping willing to put South Korea ties back on track

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  • As Chinese jets intercept US aircraft over East China Sea, US says

Chinese President Xi Jinping told a visiting South Korean envoy on Friday that he was willing to put relations with Seoul back on a normal track after ties were soured by the United States placing an advanced anti-missile system in South Korea.

Xi told Lee Hae-chan, representing new South Korean President Moon Jae-in, that his visit showed the importance Moon attached to relations with Beijing.

“China, too, pays great attention to the bilateral ties,” Xi said in comments in front of reporters in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

“We`re willing to work with South Korea to preserve the hard-won results, properly handle disputes, put China-South Korea relations back onto a normal track and benefit both peoples on the basis of mutual understanding and mutual respect,” he said.

Lee gave Xi a hand-written letter from Moon.

“President Moon said he hopes I`d also pass on his gratitude to you for your message of congratulation and the telephone call after he was elected,” Lee said before reporters were asked to leave the room.

China has been infuriated by the U.S. deployment of an advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea, saying it was a threat to its security and would do nothing to ease tensions with Pyongyang.

The United States and South Korea have said the deployment is aimed purely at defending against any threat from North Korea, which experts have thought for months is preparing for its sixth nuclear test in defiance of United Nations sanctions.

South Korea has complained that some of its companies doing business in China have faced discrimination in retaliation for the THAAD deployment.

The North has vowed to develop a missile mounted with a nuclear warhead that can strike the mainland United States, saying the programme is necessary to counter U.S. aggression. The threat from Pyongyang presents U.S. President Donald Trump with one of his greatest security challenges.

The United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea to guard against the North Korean threat, has called on China to do more to rein in its ally and neighbour. Trump and Moon have both also warned that a major conflict with the North is possible.

Moon sent envoys to the United States, China, Japan and the European Union this week in what the government calls “pre-emptive diplomacy”. His envoy for Russia will leave next week.

Before leaving Seoul for Beijing, Lee said Moon could meet Xi as early as July at a Group of 20 summits in Germany, while a separate meeting could also be possible in August.

In the meantime, two Chinese Sukhoi Su-30 jets have conducted an “unprofessional” intercept of a US aircraft, the US military said.

The US WC-135 plane was on a mission to detect radiation in international airspace over the East China Sea.

One of the Chinese jets came as close as 150ft (45m) to the US aircraft, according to US officials cited by CNN.

China’s suspicion of US activity near the resource-rich international waters off its coast has repeatedly led to tensions between the two countries.

“The issue is being addressed with China through appropriate diplomatic and military channels,” Air Force spokesperson Lt Col Lori Hodge said.

China claims sovereignty over almost all of the disputed territory in the South and East China seas, though several other countries in the region have competing claims.

China has backed its expansive claims with island-building and naval patrols.

The intercept was deemed unprofessional “due to the manoeuvres by the Chinese pilot, as well as the speeds and proximity of both aircraft,” Lt Col Hodge added, saying a military investigation was underway.

The US sniffer aircraft has previously been used to detect evidence of possible nuclear tests by North Korea.

Zee with additional report from BBC

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