[Editorial] Cooperation on inter-Korean relations should be top priority in relations with China

Posted on : 2020-08-20 16:57 KST Modified on : 2020-08-20 16:57 KST
South Korean President Moon Jae-in meets with Yang Jiechi, China’s state councilor in charge of foreign affairs, at the Blue House on Mar. 30, 2018. (Blue House photo pool)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in meets with Yang Jiechi, China’s state councilor in charge of foreign affairs, at the Blue House on Mar. 30, 2018. (Blue House photo pool)

Yang Jiechi, a member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee Politburo  in charge of foreign affairs, will be making his first trip to South Korea in two years for a meeting in Busan on Aug. 22 with Blue House National Security Office Director Suh Hoon. The Blue House said that the two officials will be discussing Chinese President Xi Jinping’s proposed visit to South Korea, the two countries’ cooperation on COVID-19, their bilateral relations, affairs on the Korean Peninsula, and global issues.

Yang is the most senior Chinese official to visit South Korea since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. His visit, which was reportedly organized at the request of the Chinese, can be seen as a strategic move by China to persuade South Korea not to take part in the US’ policy of containing China amid rising tensions in the new cold war between Washington and Beijing.

The US is pressuring South Korea to join the Economic Prosperity Network, which the US is building to push China out of trade and business; the US is also angling for the Asian deployment of intermediate-range nuclear missiles aimed at China. Since the US has recently been toughening sanctions to prevent countries around the world from supplying semiconductors to Huawei, the Chinese IT firm, the issue of cooperation between Huawei and South Korean companies is also expected to be on the agenda for discussion. That further increases the urgency of South Korea responding with clear diplomatic principles and strategies without leaning toward either the US or China in the new cold war.

The discussion about South Korea and China’s bilateral relationship is likely to focus on Xi Jinping’s proposed trip to the South. Xi hasn’t visited South Korea in six years, since 2014, nor has he reciprocated Moon’s visit to China in December 2017. Xi’s visit is significant since it would mean that South Korea and China have moved beyond the resentment over the THAAD deployment and are maintaining a close relationship as partners in strategic cooperation. If Xi selects South Korea as his first foreign country to visit since the COVID-19 pandemic began, it would further highlight the importance of South Korea-China relations.

However, it’s also true that Xi’s visit, coming as it does amid the COVID-19 crisis and US-China tensions, would be a burden for South Korea’s foreign policy. Seoul needs to make a prudent decision after carefully considering what issues we can resolve through Xi’s visit, what we need to receive from China, and whether the timing of the visit is appropriate. Cooperating with China to improve inter-Korean relations and to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue is a top priority. Meaningful progress also needs to be made on the tasks of improving the business environment for South Korean companies in China and of cooperating on a COVID-19 vaccine and disease control.

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

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