SEOUL — South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will visit China next week for talks with his counterpart Hu Jintao as the two nations deal with North Korea’s leadership transition, Lee’s office said Wednesday. It said Lee would also meet Premier Wen Jiabao and National People’s Congress chairman Wu Bangguo during his Jan. 9-11 visit. “The two leaders will discuss how to further develop a bilateral strategic partnership and deepen bilateral cooperation for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula,” Lee’s office said in a statement. The two will also discuss wider Northeast Asian issues and global cooperation, it added. Seoul hopes that the visit, Lee’s second to China as president, will deepen ties as the two nations mark the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations, it said. Both nations are watching the power transition in the North after the death of its longtime leader Kim Jong Il on Dec. 17. The impoverished but nuclear-armed state has urged its people and the military to rally behind his youngest son Jong Un, proclaiming him the “great successor” and supreme military commander. China also chairs long-stalled six-party talks on the North’s nuclear disarmament that bring together the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia. Efforts to start formal talks on a free trade agreement may also be on the agenda.
China is South Korea’s largest trade partner, with two-way trade worth US$188.4 billion in 2010. Visiting Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang called in October for speedier efforts to reach such a pact.