By Joyce Lee
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Moon Jae-in will unveil an array of TV talent and K-Pop celebrities at events, including a state dinner, in China on Thursday as he attempts to smooth out a year of difficult diplomacy with a star-laden charm offensive.
South Korean celebrities, including some of those accompanying Moon, had been shut out of Chinese television and concert halls as relations cooled between the East Asian neighbors as they faced the threat posed by North Korea's missile and nuclear programs.
The thorniest issue was South Korea's deployment of a controversial U.S. anti-missile system.
Moon is hoping to use his first visit to China since taking office in May to build support for a diplomatic solution to a crisis that has grown steadily through the year. Pyongyang tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile on Nov. 29, which it said could put all of the United States within range, in defiance of international pressure and U.N. sanctions.
Moon kicked off his trip to China on Wednesday and spoke of the need to get bilateral economic exchanges back on track.
"It is the confidence of South Koreans and business leaders that the difficult situation of various inadequacies of cooperation between the two countries, borne out of differences in the two countries' point of view, will be shaken off - and a new age of bilateral relations will begin," Moon told a round table of Chinese and South Korean business leaders in Beijing.
Moon plans to sign a memorandum with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday in a step towards follow-up negotiations about services and investments under the South Korea-China Free Trade Agreement.
Top South Korean actress Song Hye-kyo, star of 2016's hit drama "Descendants of the Sun" and the face of many South Korean cosmetics brands, will join Moon and Xi in a state dinner later on Thursday. Song will be joined by married South Korean and Chinese actors, Choo Ja-yeon and Xiaoguang Yu.
Boy band EXO, one of the top-earning artists of major K-Pop talent agency S.M. Entertainment, will also join Moon and Song at a bilateral business event earlier on Thursday.
The presence of such celebrities reflects Seoul's hope to break the ice after a furious row over its deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system. China complains that the THAAD system's powerful radar can see far into its territory and does nothing to ease tensions with North Korea.
The THAAD deployment cost South Korean firms such as K-Pop businesses dearly as Beijing retaliated.
Concerts in China by major K-Pop artists have been halted since the second half of 2016, South Korean celebrities dropped from advertisements and South Korean dramas all but disappeared from Chinese TV channels this year, Korean entertainment industry officials said.
South Korea and China share the goal of getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and stop testing its increasingly sophisticated long-range missiles, but the two have not seen eye-to-eye on how to achieve this.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered on Tuesday to begin talks with Pyongyang any time and without pre-conditions, but a White House official said barely 24 hours later that no negotiations can be held until North Korea improves its behavior, further muddying the waters.
Moon, whose trip ends on Saturday, will have his third meeting with Xi this year on Thursday and has been accompanied by the largest business delegation ever to accompany a South Korean leader abroad.
The THAAD disagreement is estimated to have knocked about 0.4 percentage points off expected economic growth in South Korea this year and resulted in lost revenues of around $6.5 billion from Chinese tourists in the first nine months of 2017 as the number of visitors fell by half, according to the Bank of Korea and Korea Tourism Organization.
Anti-South Korean sentiment has also battered firms' sales of entertainment, cosmetics and cars in China.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Paul Tait)