South Korea's Moon to visit China for trilateral with Japan amid North Korea tension

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Moon Jae-in will visit China next week for a trilateral summit with Japan amid rising tension over stalled denuclearization talks between North Korea and the United States, Moon’s office said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in raises his glass to offer a toast as he hosts a welcoming banquet for the leaders of ASEAN member states attending the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit in Busan, South Korea, November 25, 2019. Yonhap via REUTERS

Moon is scheduled to arrive in China on Dec. 23, one day before the planned trilateral meeting in the southwestern city of Chengdu with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his spokeswoman Ko Min-jung told a briefing.

The leaders would review the recent situation on the peninsula and discuss ways to boost three-way cooperation to achieve denuclearization and permanent peace, Ko said.

Moon is also expected to hold separate talks with Abe and also Chinese President Xi Jinping during that trip.

The meeting comes amid a war of words that has rekindled in recent days between North Korea and the United States ahead of a year-end deadline set by Pyongyang for Washington to soften its stance in negotiations. [nL4N28J265]

North Korea has also conducted a series of weapons tests, including what it called a “very significant” test at its missile launch site on Sunday. [nL4N28I010]

Moon would seek to consult Xi on the recent developments as South Korea sees China as instrumental in reviving the nuclear talks due to its status as a longtime ally of North Korea, officials in Seoul said.

“We’re watching very carefully various related circumstances that are happening between North Korea and the United States, and we’re very cautious to forejudge anything and predict the future,” an official at Moon’s office told reporters.

The three countries had agreed to hold a summit every year to foster regional cooperation starting in 2008. But that initiative has often been dogged by bilateral feuds, including one between China and Japan.

Since the last such gathering in 2016, relations between Seoul and Beijing soured over the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile shield in South Korea, while South Korea’s ties with Japan plummeted to their lowest in decades amid a bitter spat over history and trade.

Despite lingering tensions, South Korea made a last-minute decision to maintain its key intelligence-sharing deal with Tokyo last month. [nL3N282170]

South Korea and China agreed last week to expand diplomatic and cultural exchanges to “completely normalize” ties. [nL4N28E1CW]

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore