As US, Japan work to thaw ties with China, N. Korea, is S. Korea's values diplomacy a path to isolation?

Posted on : 2023-06-09 17:50 KST Modified on : 2023-06-09 17:50 KST
While many countries are taking a more flexible approach to international relations, Korea has maintained a single-minded focus on boosting cooperation with the US and Japan
President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea shakes hands with President Xi Jinping of China on Nov. 15 in Bali, Indonesia. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea shakes hands with President Xi Jinping of China on Nov. 15 in Bali, Indonesia. (Yonhap)

Amid reports in the foreign media that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be visiting China within the next few weeks, there are indications that the US and China are exploring talks to improve their strained relations. But there are no signs of a similar recovery in South Korea-China relations.

Dialogue has broken down, with Korea, China and Japan unable to even schedule the working-level deliberations for the trilateral summit that the Korean government had been so confident would be held before the end of the year.

While many countries are taking a more flexible approach to international relations given the geopolitical shift toward a multipolar world, Korea is concentrating on boosting cooperation with the US and Japan, which experts say is keeping it from benefiting diplomatically from its relationship with China.

According to diplomatic sources on Thursday, South Korean, Chinese and Japanese diplomatic officials have yet to finalize a date for a trilateral working-level meeting.

The three countries had previously agreed to hold a working-level meeting early in May 2023, but talks were reportedly delayed by China, who did not give a concrete response. The South Korean government had initially aimed to hold a trilateral summit before the end of 2023, but difficulties in relations with China have made it unclear whether this will be the case.

The government has been unable to resume high-level exchanges with China, with Foreign Minister Park Jin so far only speaking to Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang over the phone after the latter took office in late December 2022.

Beijing blames South Korea for the deterioration in relations between South Korea and China. Liu Jinsong, the director-general of the Department of Asian Affairs of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who visited South Korea on March 22, reportedly conveyed “Four Noes” to the South Korean government during a recent meeting between the two countries’ heads of state.

China’s “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 will take cooperation on issues including North Korea off the table.

While a senior official in the presidential office dismissed the notion entirely, claiming that such a conversation never took place, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a regular briefing on May 31 that “the current difficulties and challenges in the China-ROK relations are not caused by China,” without responding to a related question.

On the other hand, the US is addressing its relations with China differently. Even when pursuing “values diplomacy” with South Korea, the US is seeking to improve relations with China.

International press outlets are reporting that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit China soon. The meeting between US national security advisor Jake Sullivan and Chinese Central Politburo member Wang Yi in Vienna, Austria, on May 10-11 is widely believed to have been the beginning of a dialogue between the US and China.

Beyond improving relations with China, Japan is also reaching out to North Korea. The Nikkei reported that, on Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told the upper house of the national legislature that “a leaders’ summit with General Secretary Kim [Jong-un] should be realized at an early date without wasting opportunities, so I intend to continue pursuing high-level talks under my direct control.”

Kishida signaled a willingness to talk to Pyongyang in May 2023, saying that he wanted to proceed with high-level negotiations at the earliest opportunity.

At the time, North Korea responded by saying that “there is no reason for the DPRK and Japan not to meet,” according to a statement by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Park Sang-gil.

Experts point out that South Korea would become diplomatically isolated if it focused only on cooperation with Japan and the US.

“We are receiving one diplomatic invoice after another because of our focus on trilateral cooperation [with the US and Japan],” Lee Sang-man, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, told Hankyoreh.

“To minimize diplomatic risks and take practical steps, we should be more proactive in proposing dialogue to the Chinese side.”

By Shin Hyeong-cheol, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to []

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles