President Hu Jintao is set to arrive in Seoul today for the start of a weeklong official visit to the Republic of Korea (ROK), Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
The Chinese leader's trip comes amid expectations of closer cooperation and ties, including trade with the ROK and regional security with its Central Asian neighbors.
Lee Dong-kwan, spokesman for the ROK's presidential office, said last week that Hu and ROK President Lee Myung-bak will discuss "concrete ways to implement an agreement, reached in May, to establish a strategic cooperative partnership".
"His ROK trip due the very following day after the closing of the Beijing Olympics will demonstrate ever-closer bilateral relations," said the spokesman.
The Chinese leader is scheduled to meet the ROK leader, house speaker and prime minister today.
During Hu's stay, the two sides will sign a number of cooperation deals on energy saving, technology, economics, trade, education and the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.
With an average 25 percent yearly growth in bilateral trade over the past 16 years and a trade volume of $159.9 billion last year, China has become the ROK's largest trade partner. More than 11,000 people travel between the two countries by air every day, official figures have showed.
Yesterday was also the 16th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Seoul.
"At a time when Seoul has just experienced the rumpus over US beef, friction with Tokyo over the claiming of an island and a cooling relationship with Pyongyang, President Hu's visit is definitely a big event in Lee's 'pragmatic diplomacy'," Piao Jianyi, a senior researcher of East Asian studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told China Daily.
"To make Seoul the first stop of the Chinese leader's overseas trip after the Olympics also reflects the importance China attaches to the ROK as a close neighbor, a business partner and a member of the Six-Party Talks," Piao said.
Hu will leave Seoul tomorrow for Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan, where he will attend the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the mutual security group including China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The Chinese leader will visit Turkmenistan in the last leg of his tour.
Leaders of SCO member states will exchange views on current major international and regional issues and discuss ways to deal with terrorism, extremism and separatism through intensive coordination, the foreign ministry said in a statement last week.