By Kim Young-gyo
HONG KONG, Dec. 20 (Yonhap) -- China said Thursday that the election of a new leader in South Korea would help bolster relations between the two historically and geographically close neighbors.
Park Geun-hye, the presidential candidate of South Korea's ruling Saenuri Party, won the tightly contest presidential race earlier in the day, becoming South Korea's first female president.
China's state-run Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary that Park will bring out new opportunities for further development of bilateral relations.
Noting that Park is fluent in the Chinese language, the news outlet said that the new South Korean leader will strengthen communication and deepen mutual trust.
The close partnership of South Korea and China on the economic front has accelerated in the past decade.
China is the largest buyer of South Korean-made goods and has contributed to Seoul's sizable trade surplus in recent years, while South Korea is China's third-largest trading partner after the United States and Japan.
In May this year, Seoul and Beijing announced the launch of free trade talks, expecting the negotiations to be completed in two years.
However, a dissonance over measures to deal with the defiant North Korean regime, which successfully launched a rocket into space earlier this month, has long been a source of tension.
China has been a long-time and the most reliable benefactor for the North, one of the world's most isolated countries. Chinese soldiers fought on the side of the North against South Korean and United Nations forces, spearheaded by the United States, in the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in an armistice.
During the five-year term of incumbent President Lee Myung-bak, North Korea carried out a long-range missile launch and a second nuclear test in 2009, and made two deadly attacks on the South in 2010 -- the sinking of a warship in waters near the western sea border in March and the shelling of a border island in November.
On North Korea, Park has signaled her intention to more actively engage with the unpredictable regime, saying that "peace between the two Koreas will not be possible without a combined effort."
Meanwhile, South Korea and China have a potential territorial dispute over Ieodo, an island located within the overlapping exclusive economic zones of South Korea and China. South Korea effectively controls the island.
The Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party-affiliated tabloid, published an editorial urging the new South Korean leader to play a moderating role in the region.
"During Lee Myung-bak's term, South Korea played a relatively rigid role in the region," it said.
"(Park is) the first female leader for the modern Northeast Asian region. As more issues and hostilities are emerging in this region, this new president is expected to play a moderating role."
Saying South Korea is a stakeholder in China's rise, the editorial suggested South Korea needs to balance its ties between the two big powers in the region -- China and the United States.
"If Seoul is serious about its strategic partnership with Beijing, it should show that goodwill with actions rather than mere lip service," it said.
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