SEOUL/WASHINGTON - A tug of war between the United States and China is heating up over two thorny issues involving South Korea - the envisaged China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which South Korea may join, and a missile defence system the United States hopes to deploy in that country.
Washington is concerned that the current situation could deal a serious blow to the established order in East Asia.
Beijing has urged Seoul not to deploy the most advanced US missile defence system, making clear its desire to challenge the US-led order in economy and security, according to specialists.
"South Korea is deliberating further," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters with a smile after his meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se on Saturday. He suggested that the South Korean government is forward-looking about joining the AIIB.
At a China-South Korea summit meeting in November last year, the sixth such talks since Chinese President Xi Jinping took office, Xi said the AIIB was "an entity to supplement existing international financial organisations."
With this statement, Xi was trying to alleviate South Korea's concerns related to the United States, and directly conveying his hope that South Korea will participate in the AIIB.
The Xi administration has been enthusiastically trying to win South Korea over to its side, aiming to drive a wedge into the cooperative ties among Japan, the United States and South Korea. The Xi administration regards those ties as having the potential to create anti-China networks.
China's confidence stems from its close economic ties with South Korea, as the value of China-South Korea trade is larger than the combined total of Japan-South Korea and US-South Korea trade.
China has opposed from early on the deployment in South Korea of the United States' Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile system, according to sources.
Beijing has said that deployment of the THAAD system in South Korea would go beyond the purpose of defending against North Korean missiles and thus damage China's safety system.
Wang did not mention the THAAD system at the foreign ministers' meeting, but Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan visited South Korea in February and voiced concern about it.
His visit was the first in about nine years by a Chinese defence minister.
Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao also visited South Korea in March and expressed concern about the deployment.
The US government has been increasingly alert toward China's actions.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said about the AIIB at a press conference Friday, "What we have said is that I don't have any decisions about the US policy toward the AIIB." He reiterated the US position of keeping its distance from the plan to establish the AIIB.
Earnest also said that international financial organisations "need to live up to very high standards" regarding screening and organizational management, an apparent warning to China, which will be the largest fund contributor in the AIIB.
The US government is concerned that China's influence in Asia will become much stronger through aid to developing countries via the AIIB.
US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the AIIB is "challenging US leadership." The US administration of President Barack Obama has called on its allies, including Japan and South Korea, to respond carefully regarding the AIIB.