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South Korean President Set to Discuss Security, Trade During China Visit


South Korea's President heads to China this week for high-level talks with his country's biggest trading partner. Besides hoping to expand commercial opportunities, Seoul hopes to strengthen security cooperation on issues such as ending North Korea's nuclear weapons. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's is scheduled to begin his three-day China trip Tuesday by meeting with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing.

China has hosted five years of multinational diplomacy aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons capabilities. A new round of the talks is expected to start within weeks, and President Lee is expected to discuss details of Pyongyang's forthcoming nuclear declaration with Chinese officials.

Mr. Lee a conservative former corporate chairman, is widely seen as one of South Korea's most U.S.-friendly presidents in ten years. He has vowed to strengthen his country's military alliance with Washington, and is pushing for passage of a major trade liberalization deal with the U.S. - the largest in South Korean history.

Many analysts here say Mr. Lee will seek to reassure Beijing that South Korea's closeness to America does not come at the expense of China. Han Sukhee, a China specialist at Seoul's Yonsei University, says the two relationships can mutually reinforce each other.

"Korea needs both the U.S. and China," he said. "We should take these relations not as a zero-sum perspective, but as a positive-sum perspective. Korea doesn't have to choose [between] either one."

Still, some irritants have the potential to emerge in the South Korea-China relationship. Seoul is contemplating participation in a U.S. - led ballistic missile defense program for East Asia. South Korean leaders past and present have expressed fears the U.S. alliance could embroil the South in an unwanted potential conflict over Taiwan, which China has warned it may invade if the island ever declares independence.

Several dozen business leaders are traveling with President Lee to China this week. They hope to explore ways of boosting the $145-billion two-way trade relationship - possibly including some initial steps toward an eventual trade liberalization deal like the one South Korea has signed with Washington.

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