May 19, 2017 / 3:47 AM / 3 months ago

China's Xi says willing to put S.Korea ties back on track

BEIJING, May 19 (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping told a visiting South Korean envoy on Friday that he was willing to put relations with Seoul back on a normal track after ties were soured by the United States placing an advanced anti-missile system in South Korea.

Xi told Lee Hae-chan, representing new South Korean President Moon Jae-in, that his visit showed the importance Moon attached to relations with Beijing.

"China, too, pays great attention to the bilateral ties," Xi said in comments in front of reporters in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

"We're willing to work with South Korea to preserve the hard-won results, properly handle disputes, put China-South Korea relations back onto a normal track and benefit both peoples on the basis of mutual understanding and mutual respect," he said.

Lee gave Xi a hand-written letter from Moon.

"President Moon said he hopes I'd also pass on his gratitude to you for your message of congratulation and the telephone call after he was elected," Lee said before reporters were asked to leave the room.

China has been infuriated by the U.S. deployment of an advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea, saying it was a threat to its security and would do nothing to ease tensions with Pyongyang.

The United States and South Korea have said the deployment is aimed purely at defending against any threat from North Korea, which experts have thought for months is preparing for its sixth nuclear test in defiance of United Nations sanctions.

South Korea has complained that some of its companies doing business in China have faced discrimination in retaliation for the THAAD deployment.

The North has vowed to develop a missile mounted with a nuclear warhead that can strike the mainland United States, saying the programme is necessary to counter U.S. aggression. The threat from Pyongyang presents U.S. President Donald Trump with one of his greatest security challenges.

The United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea to guard against the North Korean threat, has called on China to do more to rein in its ally and neighbour. Trump and Moon have both also warned that a major conflict with the North is possible.

Moon sent envoys to the United States, China, Japan and the European Union this week in what the government calls "pre-emptive diplomacy". His envoy for Russia will leave next week.

Before leaving Seoul for Beijing, Lee said Moon could meet Xi as early as July at a Group of 20 summit in Germany, while a separate meeting could also be possible in August.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Stephen Coates and Paul Tait

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