South Korea, China hold highest-level talks since COVID-19 outbreak

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South Korea started talks with China’s top diplomat on Saturday, the first visit by a high-level Beijing official since the new coronavirus emerged in China late last year.

Yang Jiechi, a member of the Communist Party Politburo, was meeting South Korea’s new national security adviser, Suh Hoon, in the southern port city of Busan to discuss coronavirus cooperation, bilateral relations and the situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula, the South Korean government said.

Yang arrived on Friday and is to leave on Saturday, the government said in a statement.

The talks come after the COVID-19 had undercut bilateral exchanges and stalled denuclearisation negotiations involving North Korea.

Suh, who took up the top security job last month after serving as intelligence chief, was to discuss North Korea, coronavirus cooperation and a potential trip to Seoul by Chinese President Xi Jinping, presidential spokesperson Kang Min-seok said this week.

Yang did not respond to a question, ahead of the meeting, on whether Xi might visit this year, according to a pool report.

The two countries resumed exchanges last month when Seoul sent a high-level diplomat for a bilateral economic meeting.

South Korea had largely managed to bring the first COVID-19 outbreak outside of China under control without major disruptions, but recent surges in cases prompted authorities to re-impose tighter distancing rules.

South Korea reported 332 new coronavirus infections as of midnight Friday, of which 315 were domestic, taking the country’s tally to 17 002 with 309 death.