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China’s Foreign Ministry summons Korean ambassador as tensions flare

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Chinese Ambassador to Korea Xing Haiming, left, shows Democratic Party Chairman Lee Jae-myung around his residence in Seoul on Thursday. [YONHAP]
Chinese Ambassador to Korea Xing Haiming, left, shows Democratic Party Chairman Lee Jae-myung around his residence in Seoul on Thursday. [YONHAP]

China’s Foreign Ministry summoned Korea’s ambassador to Beijing on Saturday to complain about Seoul’s criticism of recent remarks made by the Chinese ambassador to Korea, as tensions continue to flare up between the neighboring countries.

In a statement on Sunday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that its assistant foreign minister, Nong Rong, conveyed Beijing’s “serious concern and dissatisfaction” over Seoul’s “unfair” reaction to last Thursday’s meeting between Chinese Ambassador to Korea Xing Haiming and the leader of the Democratic Party (DP) Lee Jae-myung.

According to the ministry, Nong explained to Korean Ambassador to China Chung Jae-ho on Saturday that it was Xing’s job to meet with various figures in Korea, adding that the meetings were meant to promote understanding and cooperation between Seoul and Beijing.

Nong also told Chung that China hopes Korea would reflect on where the problem lies in Beijing-Seoul relations and address it seriously.

Chung’s response was not revealed by the ministry.

Later on Sunday, the Korean Embassy in Beijing said Chung conveyed Seoul’s “serious concerns” about Xing’s “unreasonable and provocative” comments during his meeting with Nong.

The meeting came a day after Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Chinese Ambassador Xing to lodge a complaint over his comments made in a meeting with Lee.

On Thursday, Xing invited Lee to his diplomatic residence in Seoul for dinner and reeled off a 15-minute prepared speech in front of local reporters venting Beijing’s grievances and warning Korea against siding with the United States.

Before meeting Xing, Lee had said the meeting would be about Japan’s planned release of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant and boosting cooperation between Seoul and Beijing.

“We want Korea to be free from outside factors in handling its relations with China,” Xing told the press before dinner, with Lee seated beside him. “In a situation where the United States is pressuring China with all its might, some are betting that the United States will win and China will lose.”

“What can be affirmed is that those who now bet on China’s defeat will surely regret it later.”

Xing’s remarks quickly ignited a huge political storm in Korea, with some lawmakers in President Yoon Suk Yeol’s People Power Party (PPP) calling it the “worst diplomatic disaster” Korea has ever faced.

On Friday, Korean Vice Foreign Minister Chang Ho-jin summoned Xing to the ministry headquarters in downtown Seoul and “sternly warned” against the diplomat’s “unreasonable and provocative” comments, the ministry briefed local reporters.

Chang was also said to have told the envoy that such remarks not only run counter to the Vienna Convention and diplomatic customs but also attempt to “intervene” in Korea’s domestic politics.

Kim Gi-hyeon, floor leader of the PPP, blasted both Xing and Lee in a Facebook post on Sunday, saying the Xing-Lee meeting was “irritating and unpleasant.”

Kim, in particular, took a swipe at Lee for failing to confront Xing when the envoy was delivering his sermon, saying his kowtowing to China was inherited from the former Moon Jae-in administration.

PPP Rep. Shin Won-sik, a former high-ranking Army officer, slammed Xing as the most arrogant diplomat Seoul has ever seen, insisting Korea should expel him unless he issues an apology.

“The [Korean] government should designate the ambassador as a persona non grata and expel him” unless he sincerely apologizes to the Korean public, Shin wrote on his Facebook Sunday.

Shin continued that expelling Xing would allow Korea to “uphold national dignity and self-respect and lay the foundation of a sound and confident Korea-China relationship based on mutual respect.”

“Continuing to treat this man as a diplomat is of no benefit to anyone,” Shin wrote. “It’s unacceptable from the standpoint of Korea’s national dignity and self-respect, and it’s also counterproductive to the development of Korea-China relations.”

BY SUNG-EUN LEE [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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