(Inserts missing word "pledged" in first paragraph)
By Jack Kim and Ju-min Park
SEOUL, July 3 The leaders of South Korea and
China on Thursday restated their firm opposition to the nuclear
ambitions of North Korea, Beijing's erstwhile ally, and pledged
to work towards concluding talks on a free trade deal by the end
of the year.
Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Seoul, his fifth
meeting with the South Korean leader since they both took office
last year, seeks to strengthen commercial and diplomatic ties.
It is also aimed at reassuring Seoul and President Park
Geun-hye that it would continue to pressure Pyongyang against
its drive to acquire nuclear arms.
The events in Seoul 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.
Western countries, led by the United States, have pressed
China to exert more pressure on North Korea to halt the nuclear
and missile tests which have prompted the United Nations to
Xi and Park, appearing briefly before reporters after their
talks, said they were firmly opposed to nuclear weapons on the
Xi made no mention of North Korea by name, a standard
practice in Chinese diplomacy. Neither leader took questions.
"The two sides reaffirmed the position that they firmly
oppose the development of nuclear weapons on the Korean
peninsula," a joint statement said.
Both sides expressed support for the stalled six-party talks
aimed at ending the North's nuclear progammes in return for
economic and diplomatic rewards. Hosted by China, they also
involve the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the United States.
LITTLE PROGRESS IN TALKS
These sporadic talks have made little progress. They
collapsed in 2008 and North Korea declared them dead. It has
since reversed position and expressed willingness to return,
although Seoul and Washington are reluctant to go back to the
The North describes the weapons it is developing as its
treasured sword. It periodically threatens to attack the South
and its U.S. ally, interspersed with periods of apparent
China is believed to be growing increasingly impatient with
North Korea's missile and nuclear programmes, and last year
backed the latest round of U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang.
But it does not want to see the collapse of the isolated
state, which could unleash turmoil on its borders.
Xi has yet to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the
third generation of his family to rule the country.
China and South Korea launched free trade talks in 2012 but
face hurdles in agreeing on the removal of tariffs on industrial
goods and agricultrual products.
The two countries' trade totalled $230 billion last year and
Xi was accompanied on his two-day visit by a delegation of
Chinese business heavyweights.
"The two sides appreciated the progress in negotiations to
reach a comprehensive free trade agreement at a high level and
agreed to strengthen efforts to conclude the negotiations by the
end of the year," the joint statement said.
The two leaders also agreed on a series of steps aimed at
spurring offshore use of the yuan and investment in
Chinese capital markets.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by
Tony Munroe, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Ron Popeski)