China’s top diplomat to visit South Korea amid stalled North Korea talks, coronavirus outbreaks

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South Korea said China’s top diplomat plans to visit for talks with new national security adviser Suh Hoon this week, amid the coronavirus pandemic that undercut bilateral exchanges and stalled denuclearisation negotiations involving North Korea.

Seoul officials said Yang Jiechi, a state councilor and member of the Communist Party Politburo, will be in the southern port city of Busan on Friday and Saturday. It will be the first visit by a high-level Beijing official since the coronavirus emerged in China late last year.

Suh, who took up the top security job last month after serving as intelligence chief, will meet Yang on Saturday and discuss North Korea, coronavirus cooperation and a potential trip to Seoul by Chinese President Xi Jinping, presidential spokesman Kang Min-seok said on Wednesday.

“Both sides have been working to make it possible for President Xi to visit at an appropriate time when the COVID-19 situation stabilises and fosters such conditions,” Kang told a briefing.

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Suh and Yang would also share views on the issue of holding an annual trilateral summit involving Japan, he added.

The coronavirus pandemic wiped much of the global diplomatic calendar clean, but the two countries resumed exchanges last month when South Korea sent a high-level diplomat for a bilateral economic meeting.

After grappling with the first major epidemic outside China, South Korea had largely managed to bring the outbreak under control without major disruptions, though recent surges in cases prompted authorities to re-impose tighter distancing rules.

China is an ally of North Korea and plays a key role in U.S.-led efforts to bring a negotiated end to its nuclear programmes, but talks have stalled since last year.

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