BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Moon Jae-in will unveil an array of TV talent and K-Pop celebrities at events, including a state dinner, in China on Thursday as he attempts to smooth out a year of difficult diplomacy with a star-laden charm offensive.
South Korean celebrities, including some of those accompanying Moon, had been shut out of Chinese television and concert halls as relations cooled between the East Asian neighbours as they faced the threat posed by North Korea’s missile and nuclear programmes.
The thorniest issue was South Korea’s deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system that China sees as a threat to its security.
Moon is hoping to use his first visit to China since taking office in May to build support for a diplomatic solution to the North Korean crisis that has grown steadily through the year.
Pyongyang tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile on Nov. 29, which it said could put all of the United States within range, in defiance of international pressure and U.N. sanctions.
Meeting in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Moon told Chinese President Xi Jinping he would be discussing North Korea with him.
“I expect to reaffirm and discuss specific cooperation with President Xi about our common position that we’ll address the North Korean nuclear issue, which is threatening peace and security of not only the northeast Asia region but the entire world, in a peaceful manner and establish eternal peace on the Korean peninsula,” Moon said in comments in front of reporters.
Moon also oversaw the signing of a memorandum on follow-up negotiations about services and investments under a South Korea-China Free Trade Agreement.
Top South Korean actress Song Hye-kyo, star of 2016’s hit drama “Descendants of the Sun” and the face of many South Korean cosmetics brands, will join Moon and Xi in a state dinner later on Thursday. Song will be joined by married South Korean and Chinese actors, Choo Ja-yeon and Xiaoguang Yu.
Boy band EXO, one of the top-earning artists of major K-Pop talent agency S.M. Entertainment, joined Moon and Song at a bilateral business event earlier on Thursday.
The presence of such celebrities reflects Seoul’s hope to break the ice after the row over its deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system.
China complains that the THAAD system’s powerful radar can see far into its territory and does nothing to ease tension with North Korea.
The THAAD deployment cost South Korean firms such as K-Pop businesses dearly as China retaliated.
Concerts in China by major K-Pop artists have been halted since the second half of 2016, South Korean celebrities dropped from advertisements and South Korean dramas all but disappeared from Chinese TV channels this year, Korean entertainment industry officials said.
Xi told Moon that relations between their countries had experienced “some setbacks” - likely a reference to the THAAD dispute - but that he hoped his visit would be an important opportunity to improve them.
“As friendly neighbours and strategic partners, China and South Korea have broad common interests in keeping the region peaceful and promoting mutual developments,” Xi said.
South Korea and China share the goal of getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and stop testing its increasingly sophisticated long-range missiles, but the two have not seen eye-to-eye on how to achieve this.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered on Tuesday to begin talks with North Korea at any time and without pre-conditions, but a White House official later said no negotiations could be held until North Korea improved its behaviour.
Moon, whose trip ends on Saturday, has been accompanied by the largest business delegation ever to accompany a South Korean leader abroad.
The THAAD disagreement is estimated to have knocked about 0.4 percentage points off expected economic growth in South Korea this year and resulted in lost revenues of about $6.5 billion from Chinese tourists in the first nine months of 2017, according to the Bank of Korea and Korea Tourism Organisation.
Additional reporting by Christine Kim in SEOUL and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Paul Tait