Conflict management needed as S. Korea, China trade barbs amid rapidly souring relations

Posted on : 2023-06-12 17:00 KST Modified on : 2023-06-12 17:45 KST
South Korea’s national security advisor and foreign minister both said Xing’s comments crossed a line
Lee Jae-myung (left), leader of the Democratic Party of Korea, walks with Ambassador Xing Haiming, China’s representative in Korea, at the Chinese Embassy in Seoul’s Seongbuk District on June 8. (National Assembly pool photo)
Lee Jae-myung (left), leader of the Democratic Party of Korea, walks with Ambassador Xing Haiming, China’s representative in Korea, at the Chinese Embassy in Seoul’s Seongbuk District on June 8. (National Assembly pool photo)

Relations between South Korea and China have taken a rapid turn for the worse after Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned China’s ambassador to the country on Friday following comments critical of the Yoon Suk-yeol administration’s close diplomacy with the United States. The ministry issued a stern warning that the ambassador’s remarks constituted an “intervention in internal affairs.”

There are concerns that the move will trigger conflict between the two countries.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry stated that Vice Foreign Minister Chang Ho-jin summoned Ambassador Xing Haiming “to sternly warn and express strong regret over unreasonable and provocative remarks that violated diplomatic protocols during a dinner with a representative of the South Korean opposition on June 8.”

During his meeting with Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung at the Chinese Embassy in Seoul on Thursday, Xing had said those “betting that the US would be victorious over China if it pressured China with all its might” would “certainly come to regret that.”

When the issue of souring ties between the two countries was brought up, Xing had also said, “To be frank, the responsibility for that doesn’t lie with China.”

In an unusual move, after the meeting, the Chinese Embassy to South Korea issued a press release that included Xing’s comments.

”We warned that Ambassador Xing’s criticism of our government’s policies in front of multiple media outlets with untrue facts and unacceptable language not only violates the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and diplomatic practice, which stipulates that diplomats are tasked with promoting friendly relations, but also constitutes an intervention in internal affairs,” said Chang.

“We firmly and unequivocally pointed out that Ambassador Xing’s remarks are irresponsible, contrary to the spirit of friendship between China and Korea and promote misunderstanding and distrust between the two countries,” the first vice minister added.

South Korea’s Foreign Minister Park Jin also criticized Xing’s comments, saying they “crossed the line.”

The presidential office took issue with Xing’s remarks, with national security advisor Cho Tae-yong calling them “out of line” in a keynote speech at a joint academic conference titled “The First Year of the Yoon Suk-yeol Administration: Assessment of Its Diplomacy, Security, Korean Reunification and Future Tasks.”

Cho stated that relations between countries should be based on “mutual respect.”

“We will build a healthy relationship between South Korea and China through diplomacy that is in line with Korea’s newfound national strength and that which can be understood by all the people,” he added, expressing regret over Xing’s remarks.

The Foreign Ministry’s decision to summon Xing is likely to further deteriorate relations between South Korea and China, which have been fraught under the Yoon administration.

The two countries had previously summoned their ambassadors to protest Yoon’s April 19 interview with Reuters, in which he said that tensions in the Taiwan Strait “occurred because of the attempts to change the status quo by force, and we together with the international community absolutely oppose such a change.\"

Liu Jinsong, the director-general of the Department of Asian Affairs of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reportedly conveyed “Four Noes” to the South Korean government on May 22.

The “Four Noes” state that if Seoul meddles in China’s core interests, such as Taiwan, or actively participates in the US and Japan’s strategies to contain China, it should not expect Beijing’s cooperation on issues including North Korea.

In response, a senior official in Yoon’s office denied any such talks, saying such a conversation never took place, and sought to avoid a public clash.

Experts predicted that the discord between South Korea and China is inevitable for the time being, and that the government should manage the situation wisely.

”China deliberately released Xing’s remarks even though it could have anticipated backlash from South Korea,” said Kim Heung-kyu, a professor at Ajou University and director of the US-China Policy Institute. “Xing’s remarks were neither impromptu nor based on personal opinion, but a clear demonstration of the Chinese government’s policy toward South Korea.”

After seeing the direction Yoon’s foreign diplomacy policies were heading for the past year, the Chinese government was determined to “clearly state its national interests,” he said.

“South Korea will be able to come up with a solution if it creates space in the way it approaches economical and national security problems, enabling China to give any sort of input,” said Yang

”If South Korea can create space in its relationship with China by dividing the economy and security equally, it find a path forward,” said Yang Gap-yong, a supervising researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy.

By Kwon Hyuk-chul, staff reporter

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