Relations between Beijing and Seoul have been tense ever since the deployment of US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system.
The American system is designed to intercept and destroy short- and medium-range ballistic missiles in the terminal phase of their flight.
While the US has claimed the deployment is to defend the country from any potential attack from North Korea the Chinese claim that the radar is powerful enough to be able to detect their nuclear capabilities and the claimed interference of the US in the region upsets the “strategic balance” in north-east Asia.
Beijing has now said that it would like to get relations back on “normal track” with Seoul after a diplomatic meeting between the two countries today in China but the offer of closer relations came with a warning.
China’s President Xi Jinping told Lee Hae-chan, a representative for South Korean President Moon Jae-in: “We’re willing to work with South Korea to preserve the hard-won results, properly handle disputes, put China-South Korea relations back onto a normal track and benefit both peoples on the basis of mutual understanding and mutual respect.”
According to the official Xinhua news agency, Xi told Lee: “China is willing to strengthen communication with the new South Korean government… (and) continue to push for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.”
However a harsher tone was struck by China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi who also met Lee on the same day, saying China “hopes that South Korea can respect China’s major concerns (and) appropriately resolve the THAAD issue.”
The North has vowed to develop a missile mounted with a nuclear warhead that can strike the mainland US, saying the programme is necessary to counter US aggression.
The US, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea to guard against the North Korean threat, has called on China to do more to rein in its ally and neighbour.
Mr Trump and Mr Moon have both also warned that a major conflict with the North is possible.
Mr Moon sent envoys to the US, China, Japan and the European Union this week in what the government calls “pre-emptive diplomacy”. His envoy for Russia will leave next week.