A visiting Chinese official sought to impress Seoul's powerful mayor with a gift of a hand-drawn portrait on Friday - only to present him with a picture of a controversial rival.

Ma Xingrui, governor of the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, had a meeting Friday with Park Won-soon, the South Korean capital's top official and seen as one of the country's strongest prospective presidential contenders.

After talks on economic co-operation between the city and the province, and the much-disputed issue of air pollution - which many South Koreans blame on China - Ma handed over a package.

Park unwrapped it to reveal an image of Lee Jae-myung, governor of the neighbouring province of Gyeonggi, who harbours presidential ambitions of his own.

Park and Lee are both members of the South's ruling party, and both worked as human rights lawyers before entering politics.

Local media have often portrayed them as rivals, but Lee has run into controversy over allegations he forcefully institutionalised his estranged brother in a mental hospital. 

Pictures showed Park maintaining a smile.

A Seoul Metropolitan government official said that after they were informed of the mistake the Chinese delegation - who are also due to meet Lee during their visit - took the painting back and apologised.

The Seoul mayor "has no plan to comment on the issue" the official told AFP, adding that the Chinese delegation refused to follow normal procedure and let lower-level officials inspect the gift beforehand as they wanted it to be a surprise.

They were more successful than they might have expected.


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