Korea's Moon to send delegation to China amid frayed ties

In a speech at the National Assembly hours after being declared the victor of Tuesday's election, Moon pledged to work for peace on the Korean Peninsula amid growing worry over the North's expanding nuclear weapons and missiles program.

South Korea's new President Moon Jae-in told his Chinese counterpart that he plans to send a special delegation to Beijing for talks on North Korea and a contentious USA missile-defense shield, raising the prospect of a thaw in relations between the Asian neighbors.

Moon named Suh Hoon, a career spy agency official and a veteran of inter-Korea ties, as the head of the National Intelligence Service.

Moon's election could add volatility to relations with Washington, given his questioning of the deployment of the USA military's Terminal High Altitude Area Defences (THAAD) anti-missile system, but is not expected to significantly change the alliance, a US official said.

Moon, who was a close aide to Roh Moo-hyun, South Korea's last leader to adopt a "sunshine" policy of diplomatic and economic outreach toward the North, has called for a balance of pressure and engagement. Russian President Vladimir Putin also extended his congratulations to Moon on Wednesday.

"I will become a president of all people", the new leader said in a speech delivered at the ceremony.

Moon pledged during the campaign to turn the presidential Blue House palace into a "rest space for the people" and work in a 19-storey government complex building in Gwanghwamun, in central Seoul.

South Korea's relations with Japan are strained by the Japanese military's sexual exploitation of South Korean women during World War II, and relations with China have been irritated over the deployment of the THAAD missile-defense system.

I am willing to go anywhere for the peace of the Korean Peninsula - if needed, I will fly immediately to Washington. "I will also go to Beijing and Tokyo and even Pyongyang in the right circumstances". China blamed Park, the impeached president, for creating friction in their relations by her decision to allow the deployment of the THAAD, which Beijing says threatens its security. "But when it came to the relationship with Washington, he also spoke of while they have had disagreements over the THAAD, their alliance would remain strong".

China hoped South Korea "pays attention to China's security concerns" and deals "appropriately" with the THAAD issue, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told a briefing in Beijing.

North Korea's heightened threat could change Moon's calculus once in power.

The North conducted two nuclear weapon tests previous year alone.

The U.S. and North Korea aren't now involved in any diplomacy.

Moon must also try to mend a society badly bruised by the corruption scandal that doomed Park's administration.

Moon faces a divided parliament in which his Democratic Party lacks a majority.

The White House congratulated Moon, saying it looked forward to working with him to strengthen the longstanding U.S.

He was followed by Hong Joon-pyo of the conservative Liberty Korea Party, who had almost 7.3 million votes, accounting for 25.04 per cent of votes counted so far.

  • Leroy Wright