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S. Korean media cast spotlight on Lee's state visit to China

(Xinhua)

15:54, January 10, 2012

SEOUL, Jan. 10 (Xinhua) -- With South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in China for a three-day state visit, local media outlets here are highlighting the significance of the trip amid lingering diplomatic tension between the two countries.

Lee's state visit, the second since he took office in 2008, came at a time when officials here are voicing concern that diplomatic relations between Seoul and Beijing might not be at their best.

Lee had reportedly considered canceling the visit after public opinion at home turned against China after a Chinese fisherman illegally operating in the Yellow Sea allegedly stabbed a South Korean coast guard to death last month.

Lee also failed to speak to Chinese President Hu Jintao on the phone after the death of Kim Jong Il, the leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), which deepened concern over a possible deterioration in Seoul-Beijing ties.

Against this backdrop, local media outlets view the visit, aimed at marking the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two Asian powers, as an important step to substantiate their strategic partnership.

A summit between Lee and Hu on Monday, during which the two sides agreed to continue their efforts to seek peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, showed the two found a common ground in terms of their strategic interests, Seoul's Yonhap News Agency reported.

Close cooperation on DPRK issues is necessary as Seoul seeks to minimize geopolitical risks following the death of Kim Jong Il and Beijing supports peace and stability in Northeast Asia, according to Yonhap.

The news agency added that the Chinese leader's pledge to put a greater emphasis on improving the education and regulation of Chinese fishermen showed Beijing takes Seoul's public sentiment seriously.

Media spotlight was also cast on a potential free trade agreement between the two Asian economic powerhouses as Lee and Hu agreed to work towards launching negotiations in the near future.

Dong-A Ilbo, a mass-circulation daily newspaper, said a trade agreement will make China an"economic ally" of South Korea. China is already South Korea's largest trading partner.

Chosun Ilbo said a possible trade deal with China would make South Korea the only country in the world to have signed free trade agreements with the three largest markets, including the European Union and the United States.

Still, South Korea should take a cautious approach in striking a trade deal with China so as not to destroy vulnerable agricultural sectors at home, media reports said.

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