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China seeking S Korea support to counter Japan's growing militarism

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in South Korea on Thursday. His trip comes at a time when Japan is threatening to upstage China's growing economic and military influence in the region.

SHANGHAI: Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in South Korea on Thursday. His trip comes at a time when Japan is threatening to upstage China's growing economic and military influence in the region.

Observers said that Mr Xi may use this trip to gain South Korea's support to counter Japan's growing militarism in the East China Sea and South China Sea.

Mr Xi's visit to South Korea is significant for several reasons -- unlike his previous trips, which have been regional tours, South Korea is the first single country the Chinese President is making an official visit to.

Also, by choosing to break with tradition to visit South Korea before North Korea, Mr Xi is indicating Beijing's solidarity with Seoul over Pyongyang's nuclear threats.

However, some analysts said the bigger common threat now is Japan, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced plans to step up Japan's military capabilities.

And Mr Xi might be using this Seoul trip to bolster South Korea's support against Japan's growing military influence in the East and South China Sea.

Gong Keyi, deputy director of the Asia-Pacific Studies Centre at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, said: "China and South Korea have many collective memories in their anti-Japanese history, including comfort women issues and objections to visits to Yasukuni Shrine.

"China could make use of closer economic ties with South Korea and transform that to political factors and influence.

"What everyone is watching out for is whether closer Sino-ROK ties could affect US-Japan-South Korea relations... US-Japan, US-South Korea have military alliances so however close China gets to South Korea, it will still be behind US-ROK relations."

Still, China is keen to expand business ties with South Korea. Mr Xi will be attending the largest China-ROK Business Forum ever, with 420 top leaders from major industries of both countries -- including Baidu's Chairman Robin Li, Alibaba's Jack Ma as well as Hyundai Motor Group's Chairman Chung Mong-koo and Samsung Electronics Vice President Lee Jae-yong.

Both countries are also expected to sign about 12 deals to reach direct trade between the Korean Won and the Chinese renminbi, as well as a Sino-ROK Free Trade Agreement.

Cui Zhiying, director of Korean Peninsula studies at Tongji University, said: "Both sides have this desire to push forward the FTA and could sign it by year-end.

"There's lots of room for China and South Korea to cooperate in areas such as IT and cultural industries. Our renminbi and their won have an annual fixed exchange amount agreement. An expansion of that in the coming years could be a step towards developing closer economic and trade ties."

Mr Xi's trip also comes just as China is said to be expanding its regional influence in economic and security issues.

It has called for a new Asian security structure without the US, and announced the development of a new Silk Road linking the east and west with China in the centre. China is also keen to seek South Korea's support in expanding its vision.  

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