South Korea and China held the 15th round of their finance ministers’ meetings early this month and agreed to improve business conditions for companies and banks operating in each other's country.
The meeting is viewed as another step toward normalizing bilateral relations following the prolonged dispute with China over Seoul's deployment of the THAAD antimissile system.
The meeting on February second was led by Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon and China’s National Development and Reform Commission Chairman He Lifeng.
Finance ministerial talks between the two sides which began in 1999 were suspended in 2016 amid Beijing's THAAD retaliation.
During the resumed talks, South Korea asked for China's help in resolving management struggles faced by Korean firms in China, including the sale of Lotte Mart.
China’s attitude was also noticeably different this time, compared to its past retaliatory measures.
First of all, the standing of the Chinese chief delegate is noteworthy.
The National Development and Reform Commission serves as a control tower for the Chinese economy. But the agency is rarely involved in external affairs and is not easily accessible even within China.
China also provided upgraded protocol for the Korean minister. Minister Kim stayed at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse and the meeting was held at the commission. Kim even gave a lecture to employees there.
This is in stark contrast from before when the accommodation and meeting venue was a hotel.
There are more signs that support prospects of normalizing relations between Seoul and Beijing.
Eight ministries including the foreign ministry also took part in the latest dialogue, resulting in the restoration of consultation channels with China for each of the ministries.
China has also asked for the resigning of a memorandum of understanding with Samsung related to the Korean conglomerate's investment in China and more personnel exchanges.
In December, President Moon Jae-in and President Xi Jinping had agreed to defuse the THAAD dispute. However, difficulties still continue in Korean exports and Lotte Group’s operation in China.
Chinese group package tours to Korea have only been revived in limited areas including Beijing.
The latest economic meeting is encouraging in this sense as the two sides agreed to create a government-level cooperation channel to boost tourism. Provincial governments of the two sides will also open a free trade zone on a trial basis in the three northeastern provinces of China.