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PM says willing to meet Xi during China visit

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : Sept. 19, 2023 - 15:20

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Prime Minister attends a briefing held in the Government Complex Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap) Prime Minister attends a briefing held in the Government Complex Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said Tuesday he is willing to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of his official visit to attend the opening ceremony of the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou in China.

Han expressed hope for his official engagement, as he confirmed on Tuesday plans for a two-day visit to Hangzhou beginning Saturday.

"It would be a great opportunity if I, as prime minister, were to make a visit and send friendly signals ... about the relationship between South Korea and China," Han said in a briefing at the Government Complex Seoul.

"I hope that I might be able to exchange words with President Xi, if there is the chance of a brief engagement with him during some sort of reception to which the representatives of participating countries are invited. ... But it's not clear whether I can have a one-on-one meeting with Xi."

Han's visit to China to represent the South Korean delegation at the Asian Games -- a role conventionally played by the culture minister here -- could itself serve as a positive sign, Han added.

Han stressed that Seoul's relationship with China -- Korea's largest export market -- is based on the principles of mutual respect, reciprocity and mutual benefit, as he called China "a close neighbor."

But Han also added that he is exploring chances to persuade China to respect the "universal values that South Korea has been defending."

Han's visit to China comes just days after leaders of the world's two most isolated countries -- North Korea and Russia -- met last week. Speculations have also been growing that there could be a summit between Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin in October.

China's top diplomat, Wang Yi, arrived at Russia on Monday for a four-day trip to reportedly pave the way for that possible summit. China is North Korea's largest trading partner, while China and Russia are also major trade partners.

Meanwhile, South Korea is looking to host a trilateral summit among South Korea, China and Japan before the end of the year. The tripartite senior officials' meeting is to take place on Sept. 26 in Seoul to monitor progress of the upcoming summit, the government announced Tuesday.

The Asian Games in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, will become the first international sporting event for China to host since the country officially ended its "zero-COVID" policies in January. North Korea has also reportedly dispatched its athletes and coaches to Hangzhou, signaling an end to its isolation from global sporting events after three years.

The event will run from Saturday until Oct. 8.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Han at home is facing the threat of dismissal as Korea's main opposition party has vowed to push for a motion to impeach him. In the National Assembly, a plenary session is set to be held, possibly putting the motion to a vote on Thursday.

With leader Rep. Lee Jae-myung now on his 20th day of a hunger strike, the Democratic Party of Korea called on Han to be held accountable for the failures of the Cabinet, which he is in charge of, while also demanding the entire Cabinet to resign.

When asked about the motion being put up for vote, Han said he would "cautiously watch" the National Assembly's work to process the motion. His dismissal, however, would require President Yoon Suk Yeol's approval after passing in the assembly, where there the Democratic Party holds the majority.