Aug. 14 (UPI) -- Top Chinese official Yang Jiechi could visit South Korea next week, raising the possibility the trip could pave the road to a summit between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
South Korea and China are discussing Yang's potential trip to Seoul, News 1 reported Friday. Yang, who is the director of the office of foreign affairs of the Chinese Communist Party, last visited South Korea in July 2018 in secrecy, according to the report.
Yang's visit to South Korea, a U.S. ally in the region, comes at a time of high tensions between Beijing and Washington. China condemned the Trump administration following the visit of U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of Chinese territory.
If Yang visits Seoul, he is likely to meet with his South Korean counterpart Suh Hoon at the presidential Blue House. It is unclear whether Yang is to meet with Moon.
Beijing and Seoul had discussed plans for a summit before the coronavirus pandemic. If the two sides agree to a summit, Xi's visit could take place between September and November, according to News 1.
South Korea could be moving cautiously on diplomacy with China.
South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Kim In-chul told reporters this week he had "no confirmation" regarding Yang's visit to Seoul, according to local television network JTBC.
A Xi visit to South Korea could provide some relief for the South Korean economy. Analysts in the South have said China enforced unofficial sanctions against Korea following Seoul's decision to deploy the U.S. missile defense system THAAD. Xi could remove the sanctions that may have severely restricted Chinese tourism to Korea and South Korean television programs in China, according to JTBC's analysis.
Beijing could also be seeking clarification on Seoul's position on the South China Sea, according to the report. China has claimed the South China Sea as its territorial waters.