The leaders of South Korea and China are to hold a summit on Thursday in Seoul to strengthen cooperation on security, business and culture amid Pyongyang's persistent saber-rattling and Tokyo's moves to push the limits of its war-renouncing constitution.
Presidents Park Geun-hye and Xi Jinping will sign a set of agreements on key issues aimed at elevating their strategic partnership to a more comprehensive one, at a critical time when the two nations face increasingly volatile dynamics in Northeast Asia.
North Korea has threatened to carry out a "new form" of nuclear test. Japan said Tuesday that it will lift a ban on exercising collective self-defence by reinterpreting its constitution, which had prevented Tokyo from waging war and possessing war-related materials.
Korean conservative group members welcome the visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Korea. (Yonhap)
Xi arrives in Seoul for a two-day state visit with a large group of political and business leaders, as well as Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan.
The Chinese leader's trip to South Korea has been drawing attention internationally as he chose to visit Seoul before Pyongyang and Tokyo. He is also the first Chinese leader to make an official visit to South Korea before North Korea, a key ally of China, officials said.
"On President Xi's official visit to South Korea, the two countries are expected to practically strengthen bilateral relations by signing 10 cooperative agreements," said Ju Chul-ki, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs.
During the summit, to be held at Cheong Wa Dae, the leaders will agree to increase the level of consular protection for citizens of the two countries and expand cooperation on transnational environmental issues including air pollution and fine dust.
The leaders will agree to improve cooperation on the governmental level to revitalize both countries' economies by promoting an early conclusion of free trade negotiations and by launching a foreign exchange market to allow for direct trade betwen the Korean won and Chinese yuan.
The two sides will also agree to expand human resource exchanges to deepen mutual cultural understanding and forge greater cooperation in the future, Ju said.
Park and Xi are scheduled to issue a joint statement and hold a joint press conference shortly after their summit.
Expectations are high on what message the two will include in the joint statement in regards to North Korea and Japan.
During their previous summit last June, the leaders recognised that the development of nuclear weapons poses grave threats to peace and stability on the peninsula and beyond. But they made no specific mention of North Korea.
The South Korean government has reportedly urged its Chinese counterpart to include a specific statement about North Korea.
The Chinese government, meanwhile, has insisted on not specifically mentioning its communist ally. The two sides are likely to agree to make efforts toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
"The two leaders will discuss … ways to strengthen ties to bring stability to the Korean Peninsula and realise a trust-building process on the peninsula," Ju said.
Park and Xi are also likely to send a warning against Japan's nationalistic move.
Park, in an interview with China's state broadcaster CCTV, criticised Japan for taking a "retrogressive" attitude to its wartime atrocities, including its sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II.
In the interview released on the eve of her summit with Xi, Park described Japan's recent move to undermine its 1993 apology as an "act that betrayed trust between the nations."
On Friday, the two leaders are scheduled to attend a business forum together.
The Chinese leader has brought more than 200 business representatives to Seoul to forge greater cooperation with Korean companies.
China, the world's second-largest economy, is South Korea's biggest trading partner. Trade volume between the two stood at $228.9 billion last year.
Xi also plans to give a speech to Korean college students at Seoul National University and meet South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won before he leaves Seoul in the evening.
On the sidelines of Xi's official visit, Chinese first lady Peng will visit ancient palaces in Seoul and will participate in an event to experience Korean traditional culture.
She will be escorted by Cho Yoon-sun, senior presidential secretary for political affairs, Cheong Wa Dae said.
The Chinese leader reportedly plans to present a panda as a gift to Korea. It will be given as a loan, according to reports.