BEIJING – Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday congratulated Moon Jae-in on his election as South Korea's leader and said he is willing to work with Seoul to improve relations, at a time when ties have sunk to their lowest point since diplomatic relations were established in 1992.
Xi said that cooperation and exchanges over the past 25 years have "brought tangible benefits to the people of both countries and positive contributions to regional peace and development," according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry. China would like to "preserve these achievements obtained through great effort," it said.
"I am willing to work together with you so that the development of China-South Korea relations can better benefit the two countries and two peoples," Xi said in the congratulatory message, according to the statement.
Initially close relations between the two under former President Park Geun-hye rapidly deteriorated because of China's anger at Seoul's deployment of a sophisticated U.S. missile-defense system intended to counter North Korean threats. Beijing says it threatens China's own security because its radar system is able to peer into the country's northeast and monitor its flights and missile launches.
The dispute has sparked retaliation against South Korean businesses in China, where South Korean consumer goods and cultural products are hugely popular, along with the canceling of Chinese group tours to South Korea. Anti-Korean sentiment has proliferated online in China, while surveys show South Koreans' opinions of China have taken a major hit as a result of Beijing's actions.
Moon has said Seoul should reconsider its deployment of the missile defense system known as THAAD, saying the security benefits might not justify worsened relations with China, whose help Washington and Seoul are trying to enlist to pressure Pyongyang into giving up its nuclear ambitions.