(Bloomberg) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in pledged in Beijing to put a spat over Seoul’s deployment of a U.S. missile shield behind them and work to improve ties between the two of Asia’s largest economies.
“For reasons known to all, China-South Korea relations have experienced some setbacks,” Xi said before meeting with Moon on Thursday, in an apparent reference to the U.S.-made missile-defense system. “I hope and believe that your visit will be an important opportunity to improve relations as we seek to find ways to carve a better path based on mutual respect and trust.”
Moon also acknowledged the “temporary difficulties” between the nations, without mentioning the in U.S.-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system. He said he would like to build “the foundation for a new era.”
Tensions rose between the nations last year after then-President Park Geun-hye decided to deploy Thaad in South Korea. Beijing retaliated economically, suspending sales of package tours and hindering the operations of South Korean companies -- moves that that shaved 0.3 percentage point from growth this year’s growth, according to the central bank in Seoul.
While Moon initially called for a review of the deployment, his government backed the system as Kim Jong Un’s regime accelerated efforts to obtain the capability to hit the continental U.S. with a nuclear weapon. In October, the nations agreed to put the dispute behind them.
North Korea’s missile and nuclear program will likely dominate Moon’s first state visit to China since coming to office in May. Moon is seeking engagement with the isolated nation, but has backed pressure to bring Pyongyang to the negotiating table. Beijing has made a “suspension-for-suspension” proposal that involves North Korea suspending weapons tests while the U.S. halts military drills with South Korea.
Moon said he would discuss specific cooperation with Xi on the North Korean nuclear issue. He said it was “threatening peace and security of, not only the Northeast Asia region, but the entire world.”
Kang Jun-young, who teaches Chinese studies at the graduate school of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, said the Thaad issue will hang over talks.
“China has strongly opposed Thaad and Xi has expressed his opposition several times,” said Kang, who also advises South Korea’s foreign ministry. “It’s a strategic option to move on because there are other issues to cooperate with" such as North Korea, he said.
Separately, South Korea has asked China to investigate injuries to traveling journalists in Beijing after reports of assault at an event earlier Thursday. Yonhap News Agency reported that a photo journalist was hospitalized after being beaten by a group of Chinese guards.
The leaders later oversaw the signings of several memorandums of understanding including one to start follow-up negotiations on upgrading their mutual free trade agreement, cooperation on environment and energy.
©2017 Bloomberg L.P.
With assistance from Jeff Kearns, Kanga Kong