Senior Chinese official wants high-tech cooperation with South Korea

By HYUNG-JIN KIM
Associated press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The head of China’s legislature called for cooperation with South Korea in advanced technologies and supply chains as he met with South Korean leaders on Friday, fearing that their moves to solidify a military alliance with Washington do not hamper Seoul’s ties with Beijing.

Li Zhanshu, third in the Chinese Communist Party hierarchy and one of President Xi Jinping’s closest confidants, is the most senior Chinese official to visit South Korea since his predecessor did in 2015. His trip is seen as part of Beijing’s effort to boost ties with neighboring countries ahead of a Communist Party congress next month that will likely hand Xi a third five-year term as leader.

Li’s visit is also crucial for the South Korean government, which wants to assure Beijing that its efforts to strengthen its alliance with the United States and participate in US-led regional initiatives will not target China, its most major trading partner.

Li, chairman of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress of China, said at a joint press conference with his South Korean counterpart that China supports “the realization of cooperation in high-tech sectors and management fluid and stable supply and industrial chains”.

He did not specify. His comments likely reflect Beijing’s concerns that intensified competition with the United States could lead to supply chain disruptions as some American companies divert supply and production from China. China also opposes South Korea’s possible participation in a US-led semiconductor alliance involving Taiwan and Japan.

Li’s closeness to Xi suggests his comments reflect the thinking of Xi and those around him. Li, who leads a 66-member Chinese delegation to South Korea, met with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and other senior officials on Friday.

Earlier this month, Li visited Russia, where he denounced international sanctions against Moscow, stressing Beijing’s support for Russia in its war against Ukraine despite claims of neutrality. On Thursday, Xi met Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a regional rally in Uzbekistan. Putin thanked Xi for his “balanced” approach to the Ukraine crisis and slammed Washington’s “ugly” policy.

Li’s talks with Yoon have drawn attention as Yoon last month skipped an in-person meeting with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was in Seoul after a trip to Taiwan that took place. angered China, which claims the self-governing island as its territory. Yoon, who was on vacation, spoke by phone with Pelosi but faced national criticism that he had intentionally avoided her so as not to provoke China. Yoon was the only head of government who did not meet Pelosi in person during his trip to Asia, which also included Singapore, Malaysia and Japan.

Kim Heung-kyu, director of the US-China Policy Institute at Ajou University in South Korea, said Li’s visit is different from Pelosi’s because it came after his controversial trip to Taiwan. But he said China would likely see symbolic significance in Li’s meeting with a South Korean president Pelosi has not met.

Some fear Yoon’s tilt to Washington could trigger economic retaliation from China, as it did in 2017 when South Korea allowed the United States to install an area defense radar system. at high altitude, or THAAD, on its soil. China, which says the radar can spy on its territory, has suspended group tours in South Korea and conducted an unofficial boycott of South Korean products.

During their meeting, Yoon said the THAAD issue should not be a sticking point in bilateral relations, and Li agreed on the need for close coordination to resolve sensitive issues, according to Yoon’s office.

According to Professor Kim Han-kwon of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, China is likely to be more cautious about launching further economic retaliation, as it would bring South Korea closer to the United States and aggravate anti-China sentiment in Korea. from South.

“In the case of the THAAD dispute, China has shaken public opinion in South Korea and caused South Korea to suffer economic losses,” he said. “But ultimately they failed to get THAAD removed and anti-China sentiment grew in South Korea. There has also been a public reassessment of strengthening the South Korea-US alliance and South Korea-US-Japan security cooperation.

South Korea, the world’s 10th largest economy, is a major supplier of semiconductors, automobiles, smartphones and other electronic products. This makes it an attractive partner for the United States and China.

Unless South Korea “openly pursues an anti-China policy, China is likely to continue to emphasize a message of friendship and cooperation with South Korea, rather than pressure, conflict and confrontation,” said Kim, director of the institute.

Cooperative relations with China are key in efforts by Seoul and Washington to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. Although there are questions about China’s influence over North Korea, it is still believed to carry the greatest weight among regional powers, as it is the last major diplomatic ally and main pipeline. economy of North Korea.

When meeting with Li on Friday, South Korean National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin Pyo said South Korea hopes China will play a constructive role with North Korea. Li said he and Kim agreed that establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue would serve the interests of both nations.

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Associated Press writers Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul and Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.