OPINION – Challenges and Opportunities in China’s Relations with South Korea

30eThe anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and South Korea on August 24, 2022 has been marked with celebrations, active engagement by both parties, challenges and opportunities for both countries in the years to come. .

First, Chinese President Xi Jinping exchanged congratulatory messages with his South Korean counterpart Yoon Suk-yeol on August 24. the fundamental interests of the other and the improvement of understanding through communications. In addition, according to Xi, the two countries adopt the principles of openness and inclusiveness, safeguarding regional peace and stability, promoting regional economic development and upholding basic standards in handling international relations. All of these are valuable assets that both sides, President Xi said, should cherish.

President Xi also expressed his wish that the two sides can maintain good friendly and good-neighborly relations, consolidate strategic communications and focus on cooperation.

On August 9, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin in Qingdao. Park Jin said the South Korean side insists on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, stressing the “unprecedented threat” to regional peace and hoping the Chinese side can play a “constructive role” in promoting dialogue with Korea. North. Park Jin called on China to attach importance to maintaining strategic communication, expressing hope that President Xi can visit South Korea. Park Jin also appealed to the need for stability in logistical supplies – an indication that the South Korean side was worried about China’s technology policy and the impact of its rivalry with the United States.

In response to Park Jin’s concerns, Wang Yi said China-South Korea relations had been through “winds and rains,” the two sides remained safe neighbors coexisting with each other as partners. necessary, and that both sides should insist on “independence and self-reliance”. “, “non-interference” from outside, continued openness, mutual respect and equality, multilateralism and adherence to the Charter of the United Nations.

A big challenge in Sino-South Korean relations is Chinese concern over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THADD) anti-missile system in South Korea – a defensive measure that has damaged their relationship since 2017. China is deeply concerned about its national security in the face of the THADD system, but South Korea has been aided by the United States in deterring the North Korean “military threat”.

As long as the principle of deterrence is used to deal with national security on the Korean peninsula, the relationship between China, South Korea, the United States and North Korea is complex. North Korea is keen to develop and maintain its military strength, including the testing and development of its nuclear weapons. South Korea and the United States regard North Korea as a serious military “threat”. China, as a friendly neighbor of North Korea, can act as an intermediary between Pyongyang on the one hand and South Korea and the United States on the other.

On August 5, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol did not meet with Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi due to her “planned vacation”, shortly after her politically provocative visit to Taiwan. Chairman Yoon’s gesture appeared to avoid upsetting China at a politically sensitive time, despite having a 40-minute phone conversation with Pelosi. South Korea has been sensitive to the US’ approach to the Taiwan issue.

However, in the era of a new Cold War in East Asia where the United States competes with China in the economic and military fields, a recent decision by South Korea to join the economic framework US-led Indo-Pacific and chip 4 triggers China’s sensitivity. . Recent global semiconductor shortages have prompted US President Joe Biden and his think tank to propose forming a Chip Alliance made up of South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. China, however, views this Chip 4 alliance as a pro-US alliance that threatens its security interests.

Ideologically, South Korea cherishes universal values ​​such as democracy, freedom and human rights like the United States. South Korea’s consul general in Hong Kong, Baek Yong-chun, recently pointed out that Hong Kong needs to maintain its position as an open and intermediary trade hub different from mainland China to maintain its international appeal. A free and open business environment in Hong Kong is essential for international business, according to Baek, who cleverly avoided mentioning democracy and human rights in Hong Kong, which has been to some extent mainland in recent years after years of turmoil and political strife.

Consul General Baek added that if Hong Kong were identical to China, then the territory would have no reason to exist – a remark implying that he was very concerned about the extent of Hong Kong’s continentalization.

In fact, public opinion in South Korea has shown that more young people have developed negative attitudes towards China. A survey showed that 80% of South Koreans generated negative feelings towards China. This finding is perhaps unsurprising given a very different political culture in South Korea and the widely held international perception that China’s rise to prominence has been marked by its assertiveness in diplomatic spheres, political, economic and military.

Perhaps fortunately, South Korean foreign policy is crafted and directed by political elites, career diplomats and sinologists who know how to deal with China with skill, tact and self-assurance if necessary.

In early August, it was reported that Chinese officials had attempted to pressure the South Korean side into fulfilling “three promises” made by the previous Moon Jae-in government, namely the “promises” to “not not participate in the THAAD system, not to add any new THAAD anti-missile system, and not to promote the military alliance between South Korea, the United States and Japan. However, South Korean media reported that South Korean officials in Beijing claimed these were “not promises” made by the Moon government.

During the celebration of the 30eanniversary of Sino-South Korean relations, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attended a celebratory event in Beijing with Chung Jae-ho, the South Korean ambassador to China. They both read congratulatory messages from their presidents. Wang interestingly called on the two sides to synergize development strategies by deepening cooperation in areas such as high-tech manufacturing, big data and green economy. He added that the two sides should oppose the decoupling or severing of supply chains, safeguard the free trade system and jointly uphold the openness and inclusiveness of industrial supply chains.

Wang’s remarks clearly attempted to calm concerns about whether China’s economic policies could become more self-protective. Recent reports on China have underscored continued economic pragmatism.

Perhaps more innovative efforts to develop an East Asian free trade economic region, which can be considered and carried out on the basis of the comprehensive regional economic partnership agreement, and which is composed of the China, Japan and South Korea, would bring peace and stability in the long term.

Seize the chance to celebrate the 30eanniversary of bilateral relations between China and South Korea, Korean Unification Minister Kwon Young-se met with China’s top ambassador to Seoul, Xing Haiming. Kwon stressed that his ministry will communicate closely with the Chinese side to push forward the Yoon Suk-yeol administration’s policies on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and consolidating cooperation. Kwon also called on China to play a “constructive role” in prompting any positive response from North Korea to President Yoon’s “bold plan” to help Pyongyang improve its economy in return for denuclearization.

In conclusion, the 30eanniversary of Sino-South Korean relations are marked by a common will to strengthen cooperation and deepen mutual exchanges in all fields. However, the THAAD issue remains a baffling issue in China-South Korea relations. If the two sides can address economic relations and focus on non-sensitive areas of cooperation, China-South Korea relations remain optimistic. After all, China remains a crucial intermediary that can bridge the communication gap and the frosty relationship between South Korea and North Korea. The challenge for South Korea is to find a very precarious balance between its tendency to be drawn into the military alliance with the United States and its need to adopt skillful diplomacy towards China in the very complex relations between Seoul, Pyongyang, Washington and Beijing.

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