South Korea’s Moon calls for ‘true partnership’ with China

Travelling South Korean journalists beaten up by security during trade meeting

South Korean president Moon Jae-in has called for a "true partnership" between his country and China at the start of a visit to rebuild relations between the two Asian giants, which have been badly hit by South Korea's decision to host a US missile interceptor.

“There is a saying that a long road may not be so arduous when accompanied by a friend. There is also a Chinese saying that they must first become friends before doing business together,” Mr Moon said at the opening of a South Korean-Chinese trade fair in Beijing.

Despite efforts to improve relations, tensions clearly remain and at one point during the trade fair, South Korean photojournalists travelling with the delegation were beaten up by Chinese security guards.

Mr Moon is travelling with K-Pop music stars and celebrities as part of a charm offensive to win back China’s approval. The visit may be crucial in laying the groundwork for talks between both Koreas, China and the US to resolve the Korean nuclear crisis.


Thaad strains

Ties between South Korea and China have been badly hit by Seoul's deployment of the US-developed Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system earlier this year.

The South Koreans said it was to defend against North Korea’s increasingly bellicose behaviour, but the Chinese said it threatened their territory.

After the Thaad row, China urged consumers to boycott South Korean goods. China is South Korea’s biggest trading partner and makes up nearly a quarter of total trade.

Relations appear to be improving and Mr Moon and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping were expected to sign an agreement to commence negotiations to expand their bilateral free trade agreement to the services and financial sectors. The agreement came into effect in December 2015, but currently deals only with products.

Thursday's summit is the third meeting of the leaders since Mr Moon took office in May. They issued a joint communiqué in October about normalising relations, and they previously met at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Danang, Vietnam, in November.

Reporters attacked

South Korean journalist groups have complained about the treatment of travelling press corps after reporters travelling with Mr Moon were attacked by security.

Video footage showed a photographer for the Maeil Business newspaper being surrounded by security guards and kicked.

Journalists were reportedly prevented from entering part of the event, and when they protested, security guards dragged the photographer away and attacked him, despite protests of other journalists and members of Mr Moon’s staff.

“Emergency medical treatment was provided at the scene, and [the South Korean] government has expressed regret to the Chinese government, and strongly requested a clear investigation and follow-up measures,” the South Korean foreign ministry said in Seoul.

Another journalist – a photographer for the Hankook-ilbo newspaper – was also beaten, according to the Korea Professional Photographers' Association.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing