SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in South Korea on Wednesday for his first visit in four years amid efforts to patch up relations damaged by Seoul’s decision to host a U.S. anti-missile system that Beijing perceives as a security threat.
Meeting South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha in Seoul, Wang described the countries as “close neighbors” that should strengthen cooperation in the face of fast-moving regional politics.
In what appeared to be a jab at the Trump administration, which has been locked in a tense trade dispute with China, Wang asserted that “unilateralism” is currently the biggest threat to world peace and stability and called for Seoul and Beijing to jointly uphold “multilateralism” and free trade.
Kang said Wang’s visit provides an opportunity to hold discussions on improving “weak” areas in bilateral relations and exchange views on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and stabilizing peace.
Upon his arrival at Incheon International Airport, Wang told reporters it was unclear whether Washington and Beijing could strike a trade deal by the end of the year and said negotiations should be based on “mutual respect and equality.”
Speaking in London where he’s attending a NATO summit, President Donald Trump on Tuesday seemed to downplay the chances for reaching a deal before the year’s end, telling reporters, “I have no deadline, no.”
Wang also repeated Beijing’s criticism over new legislation signed by Trump last week that enables U.S. authorities to impose sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong. Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters have repeatedly clashed with police in past months.
“It is 100% an interference in China’s domestic affairs,” Wang said. “We totally oppose to this. This is also not completely in the interests of our people in Hong Kong.”
Wang is scheduled to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Thursday.
His visit comes after years of tensions over the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system placed in southern South Korea and amid concerns that a U.S.-led diplomatic push to resolve a nuclear standoff with North Korea is beginning to fall apart.
There’s also uneasiness over the U.S.-China trade war, which has hurt South Korea’s export-dependent economy and included U.S. demands that South Korean companies stop using equipment from Chinese technology giant Huawei based on security concerns.
Wang and South Korean officials are likely to discuss details of a planned trilateral summit between Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo in China later this month. There could also be discussions about diplomacy with North Korea and a possible visit to South Korea by Chinese President Xi Jinping next year.
Wang last visited South Korea in 2015, a year before relations soured over Seoul’s decision to deploy THAAD, which China claimed could be reconfigured to peer deep into its territory. South Korea has said China retaliated by limiting Chinese tour group visits to South Korea, whose economy is increasingly dependent on Chinese tourism, and demand for its industrial products.