Park set to charm China and meet 'old friend' Xi
WITH her keen interest in Chinese philosophy and self-taught Mandarin, South Korean President Park Geun Hye is set to charm China on her first trip to the country as President.
China's president, Mr Xi Jinping, welcomed his South Korean counterpart yesterday as an "old friend of China", and agreed to make a push for new talks with North Korea as two of Asia's newest leaders met for the first time.
Ms Park arrived in Beijing yesterday with the biggest business delegation to join a South Korean leader's state visit, signalling the importance she puts on China in boosting her nation's economic fortunes.
She is set to make a speech at Tsinghua University, which is expected to be delivered in Mandarin.
"Among all the previous South Korean presidents, Ms Park has the best Mandarin. It's also very rare for a foreign country's leader to give a public speech when visiting China, not to mention use the Chinese language," said Mr Wang Junsheng, a researcher on East Asia studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Ms Park is an admirer of Chinese culture and her favourite book is History Of Chinese Philosophy by Feng Youlan, a renowned Chinese philosopher, according to media reports.
China is South Korea's leading trading partner, and South Korean imports to China overtook those from Japan last September, according to DBS Bank.
However, the strategic side of the partnership has always been coloured by the issue of North Korea and stagnated under Ms Park's predecessor, Mr Lee Myung Bak, who focused his efforts on boosting Seoul's alliance with Washington.
The hopes of a reboot have been bolstered by the fact that Ms Park and Mr Xi are both new leaders, having taken office within one month of each other earlier this year.
Dr Fang Xiuyu, a professor of Korean Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said: "Ms Park likes reading Chinese books and understands Chinese. Her vision is very similar to Mr Xi's. They have lots of shared ideas about cooperation in East Asia."
The South Korean leader's visit reflects the shifting power balance in Asia. Like past leaders, she visited the United States in her first trip abroad last month, though she is breaking with a precedent that has seen South Korean leaders visit Japan second.
A commentary in the state-run China Daily newspaper by Mr Woo Jin Hoon, a guest professor at Renmin University, said: "This breaks the order established by her predecessors. Ms Park is visiting China ahead of Japan as it is more of a priority."