New South Korean President Moon Jae-In spoke to the leaders of China and Japan Thursday, hours after a telephone call with his US counterpart Donald Trump, officials and reports said, as he began shaping his approach to the nuclear-armed North.
In a 40-minute conversation with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the two agreed denuclearising Pyongyang was a “common goal” between them, Moon’s office said.
Ties between Seoul and Beijing have soured over the South’s deployment of a controversial US anti-missile system aimed at guarding against threats from the nuclear-armed North.
Moon also had a telephone call with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japanese news agency Jiji reported.
Seoul is embroiled in a diplomatic dispute with former colonial power Japan over wartime history, but fellow US ally Tokyo is also targeted by the North.
China sees the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system as a threat to its own military capability and has slapped a series of measures against South Korean businesses seen as economic retaliation.
In their first phone conversation, Moon and Xi “agreed that denuclearising the Korean peninsula is the two countries’ common goal”, the South Korean president’s spokesman Yoon Young-Chan told reporters.
Moon, who took office on Wednesday, favours engagement with the North — whose key diplomatic backer is China — to bring it to the negotiating table over its nuclear and missile ambitions.
Moon also called for “dialogue along with sanctions and pressure” on the North to push Pyongyang to talks, Yoon said.
Moon has previously expressed ambivalence over the THAAD system and told Xi he was “well aware” of Chinese concerns about it, calling for bilateral talks to “increase understanding over the issue”.
The two leaders agreed to exchange special envoys “at an early date” and Moon proposed sending a separate delegation to Beijing that will “exclusively discuss the THAAD and the North’s nuclear issues”, Yoon said.
Echoing the United States’ line, Moon also suggested that China — the North’s sole major ally and economic lifeline — should do more to tame Pyongyang, saying “solving the THAAD problem would be easier if there was no more provocation by the North.”
Xi officially invited Moon to visit Beijing, Yoon added.
The phone conversation came a day after Moon and US President Donald Trump agreed on “close cooperation” in dealing with the North’s nuclear ambitions in their first conversation Wednesday night.
The North has staged two atomic tests and dozens of missile launches since last year in its quest to deliver a nuclear warhead to “imperialist enemy” the US.
Tensions have been running high with Washington calling for more sanctions and warning a military option was on the table, but Trump recently softened his posture, saying he would be “honoured” to meet the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un.
The US is the South’s security guarantor and has 28,500 troops stationed in the country, but Seoul was startled when Trump suggested it should pay for the $1 billion THAAD system.