SEOUL (Reuters) – China’s top legislator, Li Zhanshu, is set to arrive in Seoul on Thursday and is expected to meet South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who has sought to assure Beijing that his push to deepen ties with the United States is not a threat.
On Wednesday, Yoon’s office said that it was seeking to arrange a meeting with Li for Friday, but that final details were being worked out. Li is also scheduled to meet with the speaker of South Korea’s national assembly.
Seoul is trying to manage its alliance with the United States and its relationship with China, South Korea’s top trade partner, amid their intensifying rivalry.
Yoon has made strengthening ties with Washington a cornerstone of efforts to deter North Korea, but has insisted that none of its steps exclude or oppose Beijing.
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Yoon’s expected meeting with Li comes after the South Korean president was criticised, including by lawmakers in his ruling party, for not meeting with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during her trip last month that included a stop in self-ruled Taiwan to the fury of China.
Pelosi met the leaders of Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Japan during her trip.
Yoon, who was in Seoul but on vacation, had a phone call with her instead. His office said that the decision was made in consideration of national interests, and that there was no pressure from China, which welcomed the first high-level delegation from Yoon’s administration days later.
Yoon feels comfortable meeting with Li because of strong ties with the United States, not despite them, said Zhao Tong, a security scholar with Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“The Yoon administration prioritises substantive strategic cooperation with the United States but at the same time seeks an image of maintaining a balanced relationship between Washington and Beijing,” he said. “President Yoon making an extra effort to reassure Beijing by meeting with Li is a testimony to the closer U.S.-South Korean strategic relationship.”
(Reporting by Josh Smith. Editing by Gerry Doyle)
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