President Yoon Suk Yeol asked China to “fulfill a responsible role” on the North Korean nuclear issue so that it doesn’t become an “obstacle” in bilateral ties in a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang in Jakarta Thursday.
“North Korea’s nuclear program is an existential issue for us,” Yoon said as the two leaders met in a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a series of Asean-related summits hosted in Indonesia.
“If the North Korean nuclear issue is not resolved, the South Korea-U.S.-Japan cooperation system will inevitably become more solidified.”
This marks Yoon’s first one-on-one talks with Li, China’s second-in-command who assumed office in March and is a close confidant of President Xi Jinping.
Yoon called on China to “fulfill its responsibility and role as a permanent member of the UN Security Council,” according to the presidential office, echoing remarks he made to regional leaders earlier in the day at the East Asia Summit.
He then asked for Beijing to cooperate so that Pyongyang “does not become an obstacle to the development of South Korea-China relations.”
China is one of the five veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council, often siding with North Korea, its traditional ally, in discussions to increase pressure and sanctions measures to deter its nuclear and missile weapons program.
“As South Korea and China both support multilateralism and the free trade order, let’s cooperate to build a rules-based international order,” Yoon said.
Noting Li’s efforts toward economic exchanges between the two countries, including interactions with South Korean businesses including as party secretary for Shanghai, Yoon asked the premier to “contribute a lot to South Korea-China cooperation.”
The closed-door talks ran for 51 minutes slightly longer than the initially allotted 30 minutes.
Seoul and Beijing were in consultations to arrange the talks between Yoon and Li until the last minute.
“As the North Korean nuclear issue worsens, cooperation between South Korea, the United States, and Japan will inevitably become stronger,” Kim Tae-hyo, South Korea’s principal deputy national security adviser, said in a press briefing in Jakarta.
He addressed Beijing’s seeming concerns over the growing trilateral security cooperation between Seoul, Tokyo and Washington, further institutionalized through the Camp David summit last month.
On Wednesday, Yoon stressed in the Asean Plus Three summit alongside Li and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida that the international community “must unite and clearly show that it will not sit idly by and ignore North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.”
He repeated a similar call for a second dat at the East Asia Summit.
In the bilateral talks, Yoon also asked for Beijing’s cooperation in convening a South Korea-Japan-China summit at an early date, Kim said in the briefing, and Li replied that China will actively make such efforts.
South Korea is the current chair of the three-way summit with Japan and China, which has not convened since 2019.
Li in turn said that South Korea and China are close neighbors, adding, “If close neighbors cooperate and get along better than distant relatives, the relationship will be much more precious and valuable.”
He called to “seek a new relationship based on the principle of good neighborliness and friendship” and to “further strengthen our mature relationship of trust by promoting common interests between South Korea and China, taking into consideration each other’s concerns.”
Yoon also called for active exchanges between Seoul and Beijing at the high level in the future and asked Li to convey his “warm greetings” to Chinese President Xi.
Yoon and Xi held their first bilateral summit in November 2022 in Bali, Indonesia, on the margins of last year’s G20 gathering. It was the first bilateral summit between the South Korean and Chinese presidents since December 2019.
Xi is not expected to attend the G20 summit in India, which could have been an occasion for a second summit.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]