Chinese minister to visit South Korea amid hopes for Xi trip, North Korea talks

SEOUL (Reuters) - China’s foreign minister will visit South Korea next week for talks that will include North Korea and the novel coronavirus, the South Korean foreign ministry said on Friday, as the region prepares for possible changes under a new U.S. administration.

Wang Yi, who is also a state councillor, will arrive in Seoul on Wednesday a three-day visit that will include talks with his counterpart, Kang Kyung-wha, the ministry said.

Wang’s trip comes as the two countries discuss the possibility of a visit to Seoul by Chinese President Xi Jinping, which had been expected early this year but was postponed as the pandemic disrupted the diplomatic calendar.

“Minister Kang will share in-depth views with Councillor Wang on bilateral relations such as high-level exchanges and COVID-19 responses and other issues of interest including the Korean peninsula,” the ministry said in a statement.

Wang is also due visit Japan before his South Korea trip.

In Seoul, Wang is expected to meet officials from the presidential Blue House to discuss Xi’s trip and an incoming U.S. administration under Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.

Kang told parliament last week that South Korea and China were not discussing specific dates for a Xi visit but were working on the assumption he would come “as soon as the COVID-19 situation stabilises”.

Both countries have to a great extent successfully tackled their coronavirus outbreaks.

The Chinese foreign minister is the second senior Chinese diplomat to travel to South Korea since the coronavirus emerged in China late last year, after Yang Jiechi, a member of the Communist Party Politburo, visited the southern port city of Busan in August.

South Korea also sent a high-level diplomat to China for economic talks in July.

The two countries remain at odds over a U.S. missile defence system installed in South Korea in 2017.

Though the United States and South Korea say the system is aimed at tackling any missiles North Korea might fire, China fears it could undermine its defences.

China, North Korea’s sole major ally, has played an important role in efforts to press it to dismantle its nuclear programmes in return for U.S. sanctions relief, but talks have stalled since last year.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Robert Birsel