Moon’s visit to re­build trust

China-South Korea ties ex­pected to con­tinue to thaw

Global Times US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Zhang Hui

South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in’s sched­uled visit to China in De­cem­ber sig­nals a con­tin­u­ing thaw in re­la­tions be­tween China and South Korea, which could also con­trib­ute to main­tain­ing sta­bil­ity on the Korean Penin­sula, ob­servers said.

Yet Sino-South Korean re­la­tions are un­likely to return to the “hon­ey­moon pe­riod” of ear­lier this decade due to the on­go­ing in­flu­ence of the US and the de­ploy­ment of the US Ter­mi­nal High-Al­ti­tude Area De­fense (THAAD) anti-mis­sile sys­tem in South Korea.

Chi­nese Premier Li Ke­qiang urged South Korea to con­tinue mak­ing sub­stan­tive ef­forts to re­move ob­sta­cles to bi­lat­eral ties to en­sure their coun­tries’ sound and steady de­vel­op­ment dur­ing a meet­ing with Moon on the side­lines of a series of lead­ers’ meet­ings on East Asian co­op­er­a­tion in the Philip­pine cap­i­tal of Manila on Mon­day.

Two days be­fore Li’s meet­ing with Moon, South Korea’s pres­i­den­tial of­fice an­nounced that Moon will visit China in De­cem­ber to hold an­other round of talks with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

The an­nounce­ment came af­ter Xi met with Moon in

Da Nang, Viet­nam on the side­lines of the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion (APEC) Eco­nomic Lead­ers’ Meet­ing, dur­ing which the two lead­ers reached an im­por­tant con­sen­sus on im­prov­ing ties.

“Lead­er­ship-level in­ter­ac­tions play a sig­nif­i­cant role in guid­ing the de­vel­op­ment of China-South Korea re­la­tions,” Chi­nese for­eign min­istry spokesper­son Geng Shuang told a press con­fer­ence on Tues­day.

China and South Korea have achieved some con­sen­sus on the THAAD is­sue through diplo­matic means. Prop­erly deal­ing with the is­sue and re­mov­ing ob­sta­cles that af­fect the de­vel­op­ment of bi­lat­eral re­la­tions is the wish of both coun­tries and con­forms to their mu­tual in­ter­est, Geng said.

Zheng Jiy­ong, di­rec­tor of Shang­hai-based Fu­dan Univer­sity’s Cen­ter for Korean Stud­ies, told the Global Times on Tues­day that the up­com­ing visit helps Moon boost the South Korean econ­omy, and shows South Korea’s ef­forts to en­hance its great­power diplo­macy.

For China, South Korea is an im­por­tant neigh­bor­hood, and im­prov­ing diplo­matic ties will im­ple­ment the spirit of the 19th National Congress of the Com­mu­nist Party of China (CPC) which calls for fos­ter­ing a new type of international re­la­tions, Zheng said.

He added that China’s pos­i­tive at­ti­tude in im­prov­ing ties with South Korea could also re­in­force other neigh­bor­ing coun­tries’ con­fi­dence in China.

With im­prov­ing ties, China is ex­pect­ing greater co­op­er­a­tion with South Korea in main­tain­ing the sta­bil­ity of the Korean Penin­sula, said Dong Xian­grong, a re­search fel­low at the National In­sti­tute of International Strat­egy of the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences.

China and South Korea trade in the tourism and re­tail sec­tors have shown signs of im­prove­ment in the past two weeks, in­ter­views and re­search by Global Times in­di­cate. Chi­nese travel agen­cies have seen a grow­ing num­ber of trips to South Korea, and sev­eral Chi­nese air­lines also an­nounced they will re­sume flights to South Korea.

Greater co­op­er­a­tion ex­pected

How­ever, ex­perts say it won’t be easy for Sino-South Korean re­la­tions to get back to the hon­ey­moon pe­riod of years ago.

“The big­gest ob­sta­cle is the low mu­tual trust in bi­lat­eral se­cu­rity, fu­eled by the de­ploy­ment of the THAAD sys­tem,” Zheng said, adding that the THAAD sys­tem has put South Korea in an awk­ward po­si­tion be­tween two pow­ers.

Mean­while, the on-go­ing co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and the US on the North Korea is­sue could also con­trib­ute to a con­tin­u­ing thaw in Si­noSouth Korean ties, ex­perts said.

Dur­ing US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s visit to China last week, both China and the US agreed to strengthen com­mu­ni­ca­tion and co­or­di­na­tion on is­sues in­volv­ing the Korean Penin­sula.

“At this stage, South Korea still has many tech­ni­cal prob­lems to solve, such as how to en­sure it will not un­der­mine China’s strate­gic in­ter­ests as it promised, be­fore the thaw in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions,” Dong said.

South Korea has stated that it will not join a tri­par­tite mil­i­tary al­liance link­ing South Korea, the US and Ja­pan, nor will it par­tic­i­pate in the US anti-mis­sile sys­tem or make additional de­ploy­ments to the THAAD sys­tem, promis­ing that the cur­rent THAAD de­ploy­ment will not un­der­mine China’s strate­gic se­cu­rity in­ter­ests.

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