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China's top diplomat to visit Seoul amid stalled N Korea talks

China State Councilor Yang Jiechi to hold talks with South Korea’s new national security adviser Suh Hoon.

South Korea says China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi will hold talks on North Korea and other issues with new national security adviser Suh Hoon this week – the first high-level visit by a Chinese official since the coronavirus pandemic began late last year.

Seoul officials said on Wednesday that Yang, a state councillor and member of the Communist Party Politburo, will be in the southern port city of Busan on Friday and Saturday.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that the choice of Busan as the venue of the meeting came in consideration of Yang’s itinerary and request, and had “nothing to do with the recent spread of the coronavirus.”

It would also be Yang’s first visit to South Korea in more than two years. He doubles as director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee.

Suh, who took up the top security job last month after serving as intelligence chief, will meet Yang on Saturday and discuss North Korea, coronavirus cooperation and a potential trip to Seoul by Chinese President Xi Jinping, presidential spokesman Kang Min-seok said.

“Both sides have been working to make it possible for President Xi to visit at an appropriate time when the COVID-19 situation stabilises and fosters such conditions,” Kang told a briefing

Suh and Yang would also discuss holding an annual trilateral summit involving Japan, he added.

The coronavirus pandemic wiped much of the global diplomatic calendar clean, but the two countries resumed exchanges last month when South Korea sent a high-level diplomat for a bilateral economic meeting.

After grappling with the first major epidemic outside China, South Korea had largely managed to bring the outbreak under control without significant disruptions, although a recent resurgence in cases has prompted authorities to tighten distancing rules.

China is an ally of North Korea and plays a key role in US-led efforts to bring a negotiated end to its nuclear programmes, but talks have stalled since last year.

Inter-Korea tensions have also escalated in recent months with Pyongyang’s decision to downgrade relations with Seoul, culminating in North Korea’s decision to blow up an inter-Korean liaison office in June.

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