"--IANS/EFE"
Seoul, July 3 (IANS/EFE) The presidents of China and South Korea Thursday reaffirmed their opposition to North Korean nuclear tests at a historic meeting in Seoul which highlighted the growing isolation of the Pyongyang Communist regime.

Denuclearisation, peace and prosperity in the Korean peninsula are the objectives of Beijing's foreign policy, said Chinese President Xi Jinping at a press conference after holding a bilateral summit with his South Korean counterpart, Park Geun-hye.

Park was more emphatic as she declared both sides shared a strong opposition to the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea, a country which continues to threaten us with a possible nuclear test.

The two-day visit of Xi that began Thursday in Seoul is considered historic because it is the first time a Chinese president has travelled to South Korea before North Korea, China's traditional ally in the region.

According to experts, the visit marks the growing proximity between Beijing and Seoul, which have bigger economic and trade ties, and the isolation of Kim Jong-un's regime.

Since Kim came to power at the end of 2011, he has not met with either Xi, who took office at the beginning of 2013, or with his predecessor, Hu Jintao.

North Korea has not received official invitations to Beijing either.

The Chinese President Thursday seized the opportunity to call on the other five parties involved in talks on North Korea's nuclear programme - the two Koreas, the US, Japan and Russia - to resume negotiations which have been stalled since 2008.

Xi and Park also broached economic issues and decided to speed up efforts to reach a bilateral free trade agreement by the end of this year.

They agreed on creating a direct exchange system of their currencies, the Chinese yuan and the Korean won, and on opening a Chinese bank branch in Seoul as the transaction centre.

The measure could reduce South Korea's dependence on the dollar, since Seoul's exchanges with China account for more than 20 percent of its total trade.

In 2013, bilateral trade amounted to $228 billion, a figure that is expected to increase this year.

China is the main destination for South Korean overseas investment, while South Korea ranks fifth in Chinese investments.

The two countries, which fought as enemies in the Korean War (1950-53), have strengthened their relations since the launch of bilateral relations in 1992, especially in the economic field.

Xi confirmed Thursday the growing alliance with Seoul by expressing his desire to open a new era of hope between the two countries.

--IANS/EFE

ab/bg


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