[Interview] Veteran diplomat hints Sino-Korean relations may improve after 19th Party Congress

Posted on : 2017-08-24 17:32 KST Modified on : 2017-08-24 17:32 KST
But Jung Sang-gi says that bilateral relationship “will not be the same as before”

“Even if China’s retaliatory economic measures come to an end, Sino-Korean relations will not be the same as they were before. Now that we are in the era of a ‘new normal,’ it is important to avoid ups-and-downs and seek deep, broad and stable relations between the two counties.”

This is the view of Jung Sang-gi, an original member of the Korean embassy in China that was established in 1992, and who now serves as the current Director of the Chinese Research Center at the Korean National Diplomatic Academy (KNDA).

We met Jung on August 17 at the 5th Korea-China Public Diplomacy Forum held in Jeju Island and asked him about the current state of Sino-Korean relations on the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties. Regarding the THAAD controversy, Jung said “We will have to wait and see what happens after the 19th Party Congress in autumn later this year,” cautiously hinting at the possibility that China’s hard-line stance may soften.

In 1991, Jung was tasked with establishing a Korean representative body in Beijing. He was one of the first Korean diplomats dispatched to China and has been an integral part of diplomatic negotiations between the two countries since then.

-What was it like when Korea and China established diplomatic relations 25 years ago?

“When I went to Beijing in January 1991, I thought that it would not take very long, but we were unable to obtain any formal meetings with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs over the course of a year. They refused to meet us because we were only a ‘group of trade representatives.’ However, when Deng Xiaoping began the Nanxun Legacy (to reform and open up the country) in 1992, our discussions started to make rapid progress. Until then, Korean diplomacy had been limited to half the world -- that is, with liberal democracies. Establishing diplomatic ties with China, after already doing so with Russia, was a significant move as it served to broaden Korea’s diplomatic horizons.”

-What do you think of the current state of Sino-Korean relations as we mark the 25th anniversary?

“I am disappointed with China’s actions over the past year. They are too stubborn about insisting on their own standards and way of thinking. Korea and China are strategic and cooperative partners, but both countries have been unaware of the other’s strategy. This mutual knowledge is a precondition for cooperation. It seems that progress in bilateral relations has begun to level off, with one step back being taken for every two steps forward.”

-Do you think the current state of relations is primarily due to the THAAD issue?

“China never backs down from its word once it has made an external statement. This situation is going to last a long time. Although things will gradually cool down in some areas, it is likely that China will avoid taking any conspicuous measures. The key lies in the upcoming 19th Party Congress. I have heard from China that it is likely the government will change its focus from fighting corruption to economic issues after the Party Congress. Since economic cooperation with Korea plays a crucial role in China’s economic development, we will have to wait and see what happens.”

-Do you have any specific suggestions?

“It seems that China has misinterpreted some domestic actions related to the THAAD deployment taken by the Moon Jae-in administration as a signal that the plan would be scrapped. If the new administration has already decided to deploy the missile defense system, refraining from pointlessly getting China’s hopes up would help repair Sino-Korean relations.”

-Some say that diplomacy with China is going to be more difficult for Korea in the future

“When it comes to diplomacy, I have always believed that about 70% of any problem is on us. Even with the THAAD issue, if we had presented an accurate and consistent message to China, then the country would not have reacted in this manner. We need to ensure consistency between the messages we are sending to China through our government, media and academia.”

-How do you foresee the future of Sino-Korean relations?

“Even if China’s retaliatory economic measures come to an end, Sino-Korean relations will not be the same as they were before. Now that we are in the era of a ‘new normal,’ it is important to avoid ups-and-downs and seek deep, broad and stable relations between the two countries.”

By Kim Ji-eun, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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