(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on May 26)
Straighten out China’s misunderstanding first
Amid the heated U.S.-China contest over technology and South Korea’s strengthened security cooperation with Japan, voices are growing over the need to improve Seoul’s relations with Beijing. Since the normalization of diplomatic relations in 1992, South Korea and China have maintained close relations. But their ties rapidly froze after the United States started rebuilding the global supply chains. If South Korea leaves the tension with China unattended, it does not benefit either side.
Misunderstanding deepened between Seoul and Beijing over the past year. The liberal Moon Jae-in administration was engrossed in low-key diplomacy with China given Beijing’s role in addressing the North Korean nuclear threats. But after the diplomacy failed, the conservative Yoon Suk Yeol administration questioned China’s role in stopping North Korea from advancing its nuclear weapons program. The Yoon administration focused on consolidating the Korea-U.S. alliance and security cooperation with the U.S. and Japan.
But after President Yoon expressed his opposition to “any changes in the status quo” in an interview shortly before his visit to the U.S. for a summit, China vehemently resisted, followed by emotional tits for tats between the two countries’ diplomats.
In South Korea, concerns arose over the possibility of Beijing taking retaliatory actions against Seoul as it did after South Korea decided to deploy the Thaad missile defense system. At that time, many Chinese citizens couldn’t access Korean portals and South Korean entertainers couldn’t perform in China. Beijing also toughened its visa issuance procedure for Koreans.
The two countries’ move to resume dialogue under such volatile circumstances attracts our attention. Beijing sent its diplomats to Seoul Monday to discuss their pending issues for more than three hours. In that meeting, China demanded South Korea not take a further step over the Taiwan issue. China told South Korea to respect its One China policy, which Beijing considers as its core interests.
If a meeting between Foreign Minister Park Jin and his Chinese counterpart Qin Gang is held soon, it could help the two countries straighten out their misunderstanding. Kim Tae-hyo, the first deputy head of the National Security Office, also mentioned an ongoing meeting for strategic dialogue. His remarks hint at the possibility of the two countries having a summit between their leaders. If it is difficult to directly head to a South Korea-China summit, Seoul can use a tripartite summit as a bridge to stage a bilateral summit with Beijing. Dialogue and communication is the start line of constructive diplomacy for any country.