| SEOUL, July 3
SEOUL, July 3 Chinese President Xi Jinping
arrived in South Korea on Thursday, hoping to strengthen
commercial and diplomatic ties while Seoul is expected to push
Beijing to increase pressure on ally North Korea to end its
pursuit of nuclear arms.
The visit will include Xi's fifth summit meeting with South
Korean President Park Geun-hye since both took office last year.
The events in the South will be watched closely in the
North, which has test-fired short-range missiles and rockets
from its east coast three times in the past week and threatened
on Thursday to continue doing so.
North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes, for which it
is under U.N. sanctions, and its plan to hold a fourth nuclear
test, will be high on the agenda, officials in Seoul said.
Xi, accompanied by a delegation of Chinese business
heavyweights, will court stronger economic ties with South
Korea, a major trade partner, and express commitment to conclude
a free trade deal to boost an already robust commercial
relationship worth $230 billion annually.
"China and South Korea as neighbours must jointly respond to
challenges in the security environment while sharing the
opportunity for development that peace and stability of the
region offers," Xi said in a column in carried in major South
Korean newspapers on Thursday.
Cultural exchange is also booming, with South Korea's public
perception of China and its products steadily improving due in
large part to the efforts of their leaders to forge better ties,
a study said.
"The favorability of China is currently at its highest
point, and the 2014 summit will drive that number higher," said
the Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
Two-thirds of about 2,100 South Koreans polled recently by
Asan said ties with China have improved since Park took office
early last year.
There was a favourable perception of China also on the issue
of security cooperation, an indication of growing expectations
for Beijing to take a major role on easing regional tensions
surrounding the North's arms programme, Asan said.
North Korea has sent a flurry of mixed signals over the past
week, shifting some of the spotlight from Xi's visit. It tested
two short-range missiles on Sunday in violation of a United
Nations ban. On Monday, it said it would put two American
tourists on trial for crimes against the state.
On Monday, Pyongyang also made a fresh proposal for peace
with the South, while declaring just hours before Xi's arrival
on Thursday that it will continue to fire missiles regardless of
what it said was U.S. pressure to stifle its right to
China, the only major ally of North Korea, is usually very
guarded in its opinion on Pyongyang's nuclear and missile
programmes and is careful not to be seen as taking sides.
Its state news agency Xinhua published a commentary on
Thursday in which it said the tensions on the Korean peninsula
were due to hostility between North Korea and the United States,
the main ally of the South.
"Washington's counter-productive obsession with sanctions
and intimidation and Pyongyang's understandable sense of
insecurity and unhelpful violations of U.N. resolutions have
only exacerbated the feud," Xinhua said.
"China and South Korea are natural and major stakeholders in
the Korean peninsula issue. A nuclear-free and peaceful Korean
peninsula is what all nations in the region deserve but have
awaited far too long."
South Korea's Presidential Blue House said Park and Xi were
expected to sign more than 10 joint documents pledging deeper
cooperation including the setup of a won-yuan currency market,
and a push for a free trade deal.
They are also expected to discuss steps that would be needed
to end North Korea's nuclear weapons programme and establish a
permanent peace regime on the Korean peninsula, it said.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by
Tony Munroe and Raju Gopalakrishnan)