South Korea and China, a major ally of North Korea, agreed Saturday to set up trade offices in each other's capitals that will also have the diplomatic function of issuing travel visas. The development was another setback for North Korea's efforts to keep its socialist friends from developing close relations with Seoul, which established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, North Korea's other major ally, three weeks ago.
Since 1988, all Eastern European countries, except Albania, have established diplomatic relations with South Korea. Each move in turn was condemned by Pyongyang, which branded Moscow's Sept. 30 recognition of Seoul as "treachery."
Although South Korea failed to persuade China to assign the offices "official" government status, China accepted Seoul's bid to allow them to perform certain consular duties, including the issuance of visas.
The agreement was signed in Beijing. The offices, which are expected to open in late November, will bear the names of the two countries' major trade organizations, not the names of the two countries.
The offices are expected to function as embassies, providing a contact point for discussions on aviation and commercial accords and an investment protection agreement. Their principal functions, the announcement said, will be to promote trade and exchanges of science and technology.
The Foreign Ministry in Seoul issued a statement saying it hopes "the offices will make a major contribution to normalizing relations between the two countries."
"In terms of economic exchange and trade, the Chinese no longer feel any restraint because of North Korea" in dealing with Seoul, Lee Ki Joo, an assistant vice foreign minister, said in an interview.
China, however, remains "emotionally and mentally" committed to support of North Korea in diplomatic terms, he added.