China’s President Begins Milestone Visit to South Korea


In a milestone visit symbolizing a new era of pragmatic diplomacy toward the Koreas, Chinese President Jiang Zemin met today with South Korean President Kim Young Sam and urged deeper economic ties.

The first visit by a Chinese head of state to South Korea--three years after the two sides established diplomatic relations--cemented Beijing’s new approach of balancing old socialist allegiances to the North with rapidly growing economic overtures to the South. The Beijing initiative shocked Pyongyang but helped force it to begin coming to terms with Seoul and the outside world.

In a 70-minute meeting that touched on North Korea, Japan’s past war deeds and bilateral trade, the two leaders agreed to begin joint development of a medium-sized airplane. Kim also pledged to establish a vocational training center in China, while Jiang later appealed for more investment in a luncheon meeting with Korean business executives.

In a few short years, China has become South Korea’s third-largest trading partner, after the United States and Japan, and the biggest recipient of Seoul’s direct foreign investment. At Jiang’s request, he and his delegation of more than 100 mostly economic technocrats will visit semiconductor, auto and heavy industrial plants during their five-day visit.


The two sides are also expected to take shots at Japan’s “attitudes toward its past [war] misdeeds,” according to Hwang Byung Tai, South Korean ambassador to China. The issue was discussed in the summit meeting and is expected to be mentioned in Jiang’s address to the National Assembly today.

For its part, Seoul is hoping to expand the relationship from an overwhelmingly economic one; some here want Beijing to take a more assertive role in nudging Pyongyang to restart stalled unification talks.

“The major obstacle standing in the way of improving relations in the truest sense is Beijing’s bidirectional stance and its view that South Korea is only a partner in the economic arena,” the Korea Times editorialized today. “While it continues to support North Korea as a staunch socialist ally in the area of politics and security, not much progress will be seen.”