By Soo-hyang Choi and Joori Roh
SEOUL (Reuters) -China’s Vice President Wang Qishan plans to attend the inauguration of South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol next week, Yoon’s team announced on Friday, as Beijing tries to expand its influence in the region.
Wang’s planned attendance comes as Yoon has vowed to strengthen South Korea’s alliance with the United States in the face of growing nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, and as Washington pushes to keep Beijing’s growing influence in check.
The United States is sending Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, as the head of its delegation to the ceremony, slated for Tuesday in Seoul, according to the president-elect’s team.
Senior foreign affairs and security officials were not included in the U.S. delegation; President Joe Biden plans to visit Seoul the following week for talks with Yoon.
Wang is attending the ceremony as the special representative for President Xi Jinping, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
“China and South Korea are and will remain close neighbours and important partners for cooperation. We … hope to bring the friendly cooperation between China and South Korea to a higher level,” Zhao said.
From Japan, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi plans to attend the inauguration.
“The Japan-South Korea relations are in a tough situation … but I don’t think we should leave it as it is,” Hayashi told reporters. “Based on Japan’s consistent position, I think I will communicate closely with the next (South Korean) administration starting with the next president Yoon.”
Yoon takes office amid myriad challenges, with North Korea conducting weapons tests ahead of his inauguration.
The North last fired a ballistic missile on Wednesday, days after leader Kim Jong Un vowed to develop the country’s nuclear forces “at the fastest possible speed.”
(Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Joori Roh; Additional reporting by Lun Tian Yew in Beijing and Ju-min Park in Tokyo; Editing by Tom Hogue, Gerry Doyle and Tomasz Janowski)